John Rukel left Croatia to come to the United States with his parents and brother and have since become successful business owners. Now he wants to help other immigrants find their American dreams.
John Rukel is the founder of Pillow of Health, a St. Charles company that makes pillows from the material used to treat pressure sores in hospitals. The company started in 2014 and he has since hired legal immigrants representing more than 25 ethnicities through a partnership with World Relief, which helps refugees.
"They're looking for opportunities just like my father had when we came here," said Rukel, 38. "It's pretty awesome to see their passion when they work. We were poor, too, and struggled when we were growing up. So you can just see it in their eyes that we've helped them and it's changed their lives."
Rukel was about a year old in 1980 when his family left Croatia and settled in North Carolina, because his father Jakob knew a friend there. Jakob took a minimum wage job and didn't speak English. After working in maintenance and construction, Jakob learned English and saved enough to move his family to the Chicago area, where he worked for a filtration company. He soon saved more money and opened in 1997 his own company, AJR Filtration in St. Charles. The family started another business later called AJR Enterprises that made medical devices. During the 1990s, the family became U.S. citizens.
It was about this time that their mother was suffering from arthritis and couldn't sleep at night. John developed a pillow made from material used for pressure-relief products. He later included a moisture-wicking material for the pillow case. After Jakob suffered a stroke and would sweat a lot at night, he also tried the pillow.
"My father had a stroke on my wedding day in 2006. It was the happiest yet saddest day of my life," John Rukel said. "While my father recovered, he had a lot of trouble sleeping."
John was encouraged with the development of the pillow and created the company, Pillow of Health, also at the same warehouse where his father's other businesses are based.
Of the combined workforce of 570, about 200 are immigrants. John plans to hire more as the companies grow. While the influx of immigrants has slowed since the new administration started, John Rukel is optimistic that he will continue to help other immigrants, like his family was helped.
"I often talk to my kids about what their grandparents did and how we all struggled," John Rukel said. "But life is sometimes difficult and people need to help each other. And we're fortunate to be able to do that now."
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• John Ferrante of Batavia is an independent financial adviser affiliated with Commonwealth Financial Network and with Chicago Oakbrook Financial Group in Oak Brook. He has achieved Commonwealth Business Experience status for 2017, which recognizes success based on a ranking of annual production among Commonwealth's network of 1,710 financial advisers.
• CJ Black, CEO and one of the founders of Trade Defender, a financial analytics company in Glencoe, aims to help investors and traders deal with the financial markets. He's a recent graduate of Lake Forest College.
• There's more to business than just the bottom line. We want to tell you about the people who make business work. Send news about people in business to email@example.com. Follow Anna Marie Kukec on LinkedIn and Facebook and as AMKukec on Twitter.