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Delaware Business Hall of Fame celebrates 2023 class

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Delaware Business Hall of Fame Bill Budinger

Bill Budinger thanks Junior Achievement in his acceptance speech for the Delaware Business Hall of Fame on Thursday night. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – A crowd of more than 100 people came out Thursday night to celebrate the 2023 class of the Delaware Business Hall of Fame, including Rodel Inc. founders Bill and Don Budinger, Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce (DEBCC) founder Ayanna Khan and Today Media Group Publisher Robert Martinelli.

Originally created in partnership with Hagley Museum & Library, the Hall of Fame honored historical and retired titans of industry for the impact of their work on economic and workforce development in the State and region. The Hall of Fame was later a partner with Accolade Alliance and began to include retired small business owners/entrepreneurs.

More recently, M&T Bank led the transition to include current and contemporary leaders who serve as role models to Junior Achievement students through their inventions/innovation, entrepreneurship, and/or strategic management.

At a ceremony at the DuPont Experimental Station, Vere Archibald of DuPont credited the Budingers for attracting him to the major corporation and detailed the full-circle story of their company Rodel.

Bill Budinger founded Rodel Inc. in a garage in Wilmington in 1969 after a career with DuPont, and led it as its chair and CEO for more than 30 years. The company grew into a global leader of precision surface technologies – it was said that by 1990 every semiconductor made anywhere in the world was made with at least one Rodel product – and employed almost 1,000 people worldwide.

His brother Don joined the company just a few years after it was formed and helped to lead that growth as well, until they sold the company to Rohm and Haas in 1999. Today, the legacy of the company lives on after it was acquired by DuPont and the company recently announced a major expansion for the products once made by Rodel.

“People who are thinking about starting a business will often ask, ‘What was the secret of your success?’ My answer is counterintuitive. We did not build a company primarily to pursue profit. We built a company to benefit its employees. We wanted to build a great company. So. the company was mission-directed not profit-directed, and I think that made all the difference,” Bill said in a video acceptance speech.

After selling the company, the brothers founded a nonprofit foundation focused on state education policy that continues to carry the Rodel name today.

“The current mood of the country right now is very individually focused, talking about freedom and parent choice in school. And freedom is critical, but freedom is not universal. We can’t be free ourselves if we take freedom away from somebody else,” Don Budinger added in a video speech. “So what I would say is as you pursue your own career to serve your families, also serve the country and also serve your state.”

Delaware Business Hall of Fame Ayanna Khan

Ayanna Khan challenges attendees to work with diverse businesses in her acceptance speech for the Delaware Business Hall of Fame on Thursday night. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Friend Jerry Flowers recalled the fierce determination by Khan to found and lead the DEBCC, which now counts hundreds of businesses as members after just three years. Earlier this year, the DEBCC was named the 2023 National Black Chamber of Commerce of the Year in recognition of its tremendous efforts.

“You wonder if this woman ever gets any sleep. Her sense of duty is not to only be successful herself, but to make sure that the members of the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce too are equally as successful,” Flowers said.

Thanking Junior Achievement and the Hall of Fame board, Khan also asked those in attendance to consider who they do business with on a daily basis.

“I want to challenge each and every one of you in this room to invest your time, talent and resources into the diverse business community. Do business with a black-owned small business, mentor a business and give back to a demographic that’s been overlooked,” she said. “These folks are looking for a hand up not a handout. Together we can continue to break through glass ceilings and dismantle systemic barriers.”

Delaware Business Hall of Fame Robert Martinelli

Robert Martinelli listens with family as he is inducted into the Delaware Business Hall of Fame on Thursday night. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Friend Ciro Poppiti said that Martinelli’s work in publications like Delaware Today and Delaware Business Times helped to further financial education, entrepreneurship and communication in the state, fulfilling the mission of Junior Achievement.

“How many people were launching a newspaper in 2014?” Poppiti said, referring to DBT. “Rob, thanks to your transformative leadership, you’re now part of the rhythm of our life every day, because you’re helping us connect to each other in a business community.”

After thanking his family and staff, Martinelli credited his parents with instilling the values that have led him to this day.

“My dad was a hard worker, and I know I got my entrepreneurial spirit from him,” he said. “And both my mom and dad really taught me the importance of giving back to the community and I think those values have served me very, very well in my career.”

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