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Supporter Spotlight: Meet Ron Vaupel

Ron Vaupel, President and CEO of Guardian Industries, supports Youth Entrepreneurs as a donor and as an instrumental figure in the Southeast Michigan YE programs.  “The complete package of Youth Entrepreneurs is the principles plus business literacy. That can give students confidence to have a personal vision and find a way.” Meet Ron. 

His career path: Ron grew up on a farm in Kansas and then attended Kansas State University, graduating with a degree in engineering. He went straight to working for Koch Industries in Wichita, where he remained, developing his career for 30 years. Five years ago, Ron took a new role as the President & CEO of Guardian Industries based in Auburn Hills, Southeast Michigan. Guardian is the third largest glass producer in the world. 

His family: Ron and his wife Suzanne, who hails from Denver, have one adult daughter who lives in Atlanta and two 12-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. 

His YE connection: His time in Wichita and working with Koch introduced Ron to Youth Entrepreneurs, which is headquartered in Wichita. But it was learning about YE’s approach that really drew him in. “I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship and basic business concepts. But with my educational background, it wasn’t that accessible. The school system is pretty rigid around concepts that aren’t really practical to apply. So I graduated in engineering but wanted to be in business, and it’s hard to self-educate in business concepts. I learned to be principled from my upbringing, but I didn’t get a chance to learn the concepts of entrepreneurship before entering the workforce. I wish someone would’ve taught me that stuff.” 

Bringing YE to Detroit: Ron and Suzanne have long been passionate about vulnerable youth and the issues they face, and have always sought out the best, most sustainable ways to help. When they moved to Michigan, they began to see the real crisis in the community of Detroit. “There are failing school systems, and kids aren’t really getting what they need to survive, to be successful. I was getting asked to donate to programs for school supplies, but had to wonder if the kids really needed backpacks to survive or did they need to gain personal vision? I know they need the essentials too, but shouldn’t we focus our effort on the tools they really need? I remembered YE and thought, of all places where this effort could make an impact it would be here in Detroit. Why not here and why not now?” Ron started exploring this idea with YE and was instrumental in getting the program up and running in Detroit. Now, there are eight southeast Michigan schools with active YE programs, and more are in the works. 

Why he supports YE: “What YE is really about is intellectual capital. The real customers are the teachers. They get the tools so they can reach their students. This is a great model, because I know that the money I donate goes directly to help the teachers get the training and education they need to provide these lessons to students. If what I donate helps one teacher reach 25 students, that’s a big impact. It’s hard to find that kind of leverage and scalability with your donation dollars.” 

Ron’s company, Guardian Industries,, also supports YE. “Our employees are excited to support YE. We’re looking at a format for the coming school year where our employees will have the opportunity to engage in mentoring and coaching, to work with students in the schools, teaching economic principles and coaching for events and competitions. Our employees are ready and are looking forward to it.” 

A highlight of YE involvement: “Meeting the students. In the Big Idea competition, we got to see kids talking about business concepts that they wouldn’t know if it weren’t for YE. We heard them talk about ideas they’ve developed, and articulate concepts in a way that you could tell they understood it. You could tell they were going to have confidence as they went out into the world.” 

Discover more stories about YE supporters and collaborators here.