Ken Austin, cofounder of A-dec, died on May 1, 2019, at the age of 87. He and his wife Joan launched the company in 1964 because they believed there was a better way for dentists to work. In the ensuing years, they grew A-dec from a kitchen table operation into one of the world’s largest manufacturers of dental equipment.
While Joan managed the young company’s day to day business, Ken was in charge of designing and building the new company’s products. Asked once about his engineering skills, Ken said that he preferred to think of himself as an imagineer or even as a simple blacksmith, someone who could shape what he had into whatever the job required.
A-dec now occupies a 50-acre campus with more than 1,000 employees producing equipment for dental offices in more than 100 countries. In 1975, Ken and Joan codified the A-dec Way, a 15-point set of principles that puts “concern for people” first and encourages teamwork, creativity, honesty, and public service.
Ken led a partnership between A-dec and Rotary Clubs to create equipment to make dentistry easier in difficult parts of the world, such as the Rota-Dent portable control unit. Also, more than 80,000 patients have received care from the TotaChair portable dental chair, which Ken created as well.
His other philanthropy includes the creation of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation treatment center in Newberg, Oregon; the Austin Family Business Program and Austin Hall at Oregon State University (OSU); and the Austin Family Foundation, which supports education at all levels and access to addiction and mental health services in Newberg and Yamhill County in Oregon.
“Through the Austin Family Business Program and in Austin Hall, tomorrow’s leaders will learn from the past while shaping the future,” said OSU president Ed Ray. “Ken was a dear friend and mentor to me, and I will miss him greatly. I know he is going to be with his dear partner Joan.”
Ken is survived by his son, G. Kenneth Austin III; his daughter, Loni Austin Parrish; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Joan passed away in 2013. Donations may be sent to the Oregon State University Foundation, Special Olympics Oregon, DePaul Treatment Centers, or the Pacific NW Truck Museum.