How Fred Foster Built a Theatre Lighting Company From Scratch

Dec 18, 2017

Fred Foster started Electronic Theatre Controls with his brother and two friends in 1975. He was a UW-Madison student with an idea to create a computerized lighting console. It was a brainy group: Two of the team members would go on to be physicists.

Now more than 40 years later, when Disney is creating a new theme park, it calls the privately-held Middleton-based company to do the lighting. ETC is a global leader in the manufacturing of lighting and rigging technology. 

The company has about $275 million of annual revenue, more than 1,000 employees in 10 countries and a reputation for 24/7 unmatched technical and customer service 365 days a year.

What's more, Fred and his partners decided in 2016 to form an ESOP, having ETC buy 33% of the company over the next ten years for the benefit of employees.

Here's some advice Fred has for fellow entrepreneurs:

  • Find an idea you're passionate about
  • Use mentors well
  • Serve customers well
  • Understand the importance of the people in your company and encourage them to question you

How Did You Do That? is produced by WUWM, in association with the Milwaukee Institute and Golden Angels Investors.