Richard Burke, a visionary entrepreneur who turned Trek Bikes into a $600 million company, died in Milwaukee last week of complications from heart surgery. He was 73.
Burke, who started the company in the mid 1970s in a Waterloo, Wis., red pole barn, saw a lucrative business opportunity in the era's physical fitness boom. Over the next 30 years, he grew Trek into a multi-million brand that provided Lance Armstrong with bikes for his seven Tour de France wins.
Burke served as CEO until 1998, when he turned over the company to his eldest son, John Burke.
In 2006, Burke told Inc. magazine that Trek's success was not a matter of strategic planning. "I put down a mission statement that's still in place today. It says we're going to provide our customers with quality products at competitive value and deliver them on time. We are going to create a positive environment for our customers and employees. And we are going to make money. That's what we did," he said.
Over the years, Burke channeled his financial success into philanthropic projects. He funded two educational programs at Marquette University, his alma mater, and contributed millions of dollars to local Milwaukee organizations every year through the Trinity Foundation.
"A gifted and accomplished businessman, it’s Burke’s philanthropy and sense of social responsibility, not his business acumen, that will serve as his true legacy," Trek said in a statement.