Robert Luddy (’68) is the president of Raleigh, North Carolina-based CaptiveAire, the nation’s leading manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation systems. The company, which Luddy started in 1976 with just 1,300 USD of his own money, now employs 800 people and operates six manufacturing plants in the United States and 90 sales offices in North America. From its humble beginnings, the business has grown steadily and, since 2002, its revenues have more than tripled to 300 million USD last year.
Luddy has maintained a single-minded focus on goal setting, constant improvement, and ongoing innovation, which made hiring the right team of people an essential component to the company’s success. As Luddy has stated, “If you hire skilled people and you give them tough problems, they’re going to solve them.”
This philosophy has carried over into a more recent venture about which Luddy is deeply passionate—establishing a network of charter and private schools. Seeing a need for schools that emphasized character development along with high academic achievement, Luddy founded several schools in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. In 1998, he established the Franklin Academy, an award-winning public charter school in Wake Forest that now serves over 1,200 K–12 students. In 2001, Luddy founded St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, a classical, college preparatory school. The academy has been recognized as one of the 50 best Catholic schools in the United States. In 2007, Luddy established Thales Academy in Raleigh, the first school in a network of private community schools offering a high-quality K–8 education at low-cost tuition.
The multidisciplinary approach to education at Luddy’s schools also has its roots in his Lasallian education. “As I look back, what I learned at La Salle was good accounting, philosophy, mathematics—basic core subjects that teach you to be a thinker, to have a depth and breadth of knowledge in order to understand everything we can about a subject,” he said. “Our schools are very dynamic. We teach our students to be constantly learning, growing, and improving; to strive for excellence in everything they do.”
This same philosophy is evident in Luddy’s business practices, evidenced by the many accolades his company has received. CaptivAire has been voted best in class overall in the ventilation systems category based on votes by industry kitchen equipment dealers, broadliners, consultants, and operators, and is featured in Foodservice Equipment & Supplies Magazine. CaptiveAire also won best in class for Dealers, Operators, and Consultant Class in 2014. Innovation and entrepreneurial spirit have been the keys to success at CaptiveAire.
Luddy’s intellectual, moral, and financial support have helped propel the growth of entrepreneurship education at La Salle University through the La Salle Center for Entrepreneurship.