Indiana Tech Alumni, Donors, & Friends: Featured Stories: September 2010
Alumnus Kontowsky travels the highway of success
With a simple goal and a specific plan of attack, alumnus Irv Kontowsky steered his life onto the on ramp of the highway of success.
Irv Kontowsky speaks at the 2010 Indiana Tech
Irv Kontowsky speaks at the 2010 Indiana Tech Convocation.
Written by: Mike Peterson, alumni director / September 2010

After almost failing out of school during his second year at Indiana Tech, Dean Primrose (former Dean of the School of Engineering) met with Kontowsky for a caring, heart-to-heart discussion. During this meeting, Dean Primrose tasked Kontowsky with one goal – graduate from college. He then helped Kontowsky map out clear steps to perform toward achieving this goal. Kontowsky heeded the dean’s advice and followed the necessary steps toward the reality of graduation with a degree in engineering management in 1994. "That one moment in my life made me grow up, mature, and realize how important the role of proper planning is in becoming successful both personally and professionally," said Kontowsky. This process of goal-setting and planning has continued to play a major role in Kontowsky’s life. However, the highway of success has not been without its potholes, detours, and speed traps.

Irvin J. Kontowsky spent the first eight years of his life in Detroit, Michigan, and lived out the rest of his pre-college days in Coldwater, Michigan, before attending Indiana Tech. About 175 miles straight south of Coldwater, Kathie Schaeffer spent her days of youth in the small Indiana town of Liberty. Their choice to follow the road to college in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was the catalyst that caused these two lives to intersect at one of Irv’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity parties at Indiana Tech. After a first date at Cheddar’s, Irv and Kathie soon found themselves traveling down the highway of success in the carpool lane.

After graduating as the top accounting student at Indiana Tech, Kathie Schaeffer became Kathie Kontowsky in 1995. Irv recalls that Kathie chose accounting as her degree because, "she likes putting numbers in columns and adding the columns then putting more numbers in columns." As the Kontowskys began their life together as husband and wife, Kathie used her degree to land a job as assistant controller at Banks Corporation in Elkhart, while Irv put his education to work as a reliability analyst at Holiday Rambler, an RV manufacturer. Irv reflected on his first job, "It was great! My job was to break things, and then explain why they broke."

Kathie continued her career at Banks Corporation for twelve years until the company was sold. Several former Banks employees turned this roadblock into a minor speed bump by forming Reach 360, an integrated back office provider of human resource, accounting and IT solutions. Kathie seized the opportunity to merge her talents and skills with this new start-up company, which has been a great move for her. As a senior client coordinator, Kathie is helping Reach 360 grow in its success.

As Irv continued down the RV industry road, he became restless and longed for increased challenges as well as the opportunity to accelerate his financial reward. Returning to that simple advice, Irv set a goal of earning a master’s degree from Indiana Tech and created a plan to follow in order to achieve success. And succeed he did, graduating in 2000 as part of the first MBA class at Indiana Tech. "The master’s degree gave me advanced tools to apply to my day-to-day job, helping me to excel and perform better than my counterparts. It helped me to apply techniques that would aid in solving problems and saving my company money," commented Irv.

Soon after earning his master’s degree, Irv put his knowledge to use as part of an investment team to start Potomac RV, Inc. For just over four years, Irv served as the director of operations and the director of human resources at Potomac. Of this experience, Irv stated, “It was the hardest, most rewarding experience of my life! I no longer fear anything in business. It taught me that nothing is free or easy, but with hard work and a strong education, great things can be accomplished by anyone."

The next major detour on the highway of success occurred when Potomac RV, Inc. had to face the harsh reality of a very tough and competitive marketplace which forced this business to shut its doors. Irv was able to steer himself back in the right direction by teaching as an adjunct professor at Indiana Tech before offering his talents and expertise to Gulf Stream Coach as director of quality in the Conquest Motorhome Division. His skills and education, combined with his goal of increasing quality while reducing overall costs, benefited Gulf Stream in many ways, including a 10% reduction in budget, reduction of warranty costs, and developing teams to improve more than 175 areas of minor significance and 27 areas of major concern.

In June of 2009, many large potholes began to emerge in the highway of success as the bottom fell out of the economy. Unemployment rates in Elkhart, Indiana, where the Kontowskys live, were hovering just above 17%. Irv managed to avoid the damage that these potholes could produce by actively seeking new employment. Due to his education and experience, Irv was able to secure two job offers in one week. He chose to change lanes at the right time by resigning from Gulf Stream and moving forward with Omega Plastics Corporation in Elkhart as a warehouse and shipping manager. This has proven to be another successful decision for Irv and his family.

Kathie and Irv have added two young Kontowskys, Garrett, age 9, and Lance, 5, on their journey together. These two boys are sure to learn from their parents great life lessons of overcoming obstacles and staying focused on important goals. And while it may be difficult to see the roadblocks and potholes that lie around the next corner, one thing is sure: the Kontowskys will continue to consult the map, plan a route, and drive toward their destination of continued success!

Irv recently had the honor of sharing with the entire student body and faculty and staff as the special alumnus speaker during the 2010 Convocation on the main campus of Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. His message was received with a standing ovation as he shared the importance of planning for success. After laying out four important life lessons: 1) set goals; 2) develop planned steps to reach those goals; 3) make use of available resources, especially professors; and 4) surround yourself with the right people with similar goals, Irv concluded with this powerful statement: "A goal without a plan is just a wish!" He then offered the students a real-life challenge to set a goal of developing a marketing plan for a new product developed by his current company. The student whose idea is chosen to be implemented will receive a $1,200 reward.

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