Catching up with the Betrus Brothers

brother rice high school mi

 

Peter Betrus ’74 and Tommy Betrus ’77

 

For the past six decades, the Betrus family has been designing, manufacturing and fabricating engineered hose and tube assemblies.  Today, Detroit Flex Defense specializes in custom made hose assemblies and hose/tube combinations found on anything from military vehicles for the defense industry to production vehicles for the automotive industry.  Currently, Peter Betrus ’74 serves as President, and Tommy Betrus ’77 serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer.  They have extensive experience working with stainless steel, aluminum, and titanium and have hired dozens of Brother Rice alumni in various internship roles as well as full-time positions over the years.  Their goal and mission is not only to sell their products, but build long-term customer relationships every step of the way.

 

brother rice high school mi

Coach Fracassa enjoying a visit with Tommy ’77 and Peter ’74 at Detroit Flex Defense.

 

Tommy Betrus ’77 has been married 27 years to his wife Susie Sofy, and they have four children together, Stephanie (25), Louie ‘13 (23), Stella (19) and their youngest son Manny ‘20 (17) is currently a junior at Brother Rice.  Tom graduated from Brother Rice in 1977 and went on to Hillsdale College where he graduated in 1981.  He currently lives in Bloomfield Hills.

Peter Betrus ’74 is divorced with two children, Lindsey (31) and Lauren (30) who’s married and lives in Austin, TX with his 10-month-old granddaughter.  Peter graduated from Brother Rice in 1974 and went to Michigan State University where he graduated in 1978.  He also resides in Bloomfield Hills.

The company was started 65 years ago by Peter and Tommy’s mother and father.  Their father was working at a company that went out of business, so he took a few of their clients, rented an abandoned bakery in Detroit at Wyoming and Fenkell, and went out on his own.  This grew into a two-man shop, Detroit Flexible Metal Products, and by the late sixties, he moved out of Detroit relocating to Royal Oak.  In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when Peter and Tommy graduated from their respective colleges, the business began to grow as new products were invented, more flexible materials and higher temperatures, which led them into the performance industry.  The Betrus brothers then started Auto Cycle Marine Sales and started selling high-end race products to NASCAR and the racing industry, which back then, was nothing like it is today.

 

 

This model led them into the 2008 recession where the racing business turned into a commodity and they refocused their energy on the military, rebranding the company into Detroit Flex Defense which soon broke them into the space industry.

Now, they deal with the major space industries, their military business is growing, their niche market of alternative-fuel vehicles is growing, their adhesive business is growing, and their industrial business is growing.  What started out as one or two markets years ago has developed into seven different markets today.

Peter and Tommy recently sat down with Alumni Director Dan McGrath ’96 to catch up…

 

How did Brother Rice prepare you for where you are today? 

Tommy:  My mom and dad brought us up as a hard-working family.  We’d help out pitching in where we could, and we’d try to make ends meet.  My parent’s dream was to move out of Detroit, I was the youngest of the family, and when I turned four years old, we moved to Beverly Hills and attended St. Regis.  Our privilege was to go to a Catholic school, that’s all our parents wanted, they were very devout Catholics.  The whole St. Regis, Brother Rice, and Marian community contributed to our upbringing, along with all the neighbors and friends, created an incredible environment.

When we enrolled at Brother Rice, I spent a lot of time with Coach Fracassa, and I immediately noticed how he treated everybody the same, with respect and dignity. He reinforced what I was learning from my parents. Coach Fracassa demands respect for your family, teachers, fellow students, and your teammates and his consistency certainly has a lot to do with how we operate today.  We’ll tell anyone we hire, be honest with the customers, (that’s all of our customers), always be honest even if it hurts, even if it’s costly, tell them the truth, tell the truth on deliveries, don’t sell them something that’s not going to work for them.  We drill this thought process into our team every day, just as coach ran football drills every day.

Today we have 50 employees, just a few years ago we only had 10-15, so this business model has grown the company over the years.  We call it a “Working Warrior,” a tagline we use daily, as we believe in honesty, integrity, and respect which we learned at Brother Rice and we implement every day.  We joke around a lot because we do have half a dozen Brother Rice Warriors working here on any given time.  These guys fit in quickly, and it’s easy for them, they understand and embrace our philosophy because it feels natural to them and it creates a great working environment.  It’s prepared me, it’s something I’ve lived with, and I give credit to my Brother Rice education.

Peter:  When I was at Brother Rice in the 70’s, I can tell you, it was all about discipline.  You respected your parents, your teachers, your coaches and I always took pride in telling people that I graduated from Brother Rice High School.  I think that’s what turned both Tommy and myself around. We could have gone a lot of different crazy different ways had we attended a public school, but you know, not many brothers are in business after 40 years, so we both work well together.  We don’t dislike each other, we still have a great relationship, but we have to give credit to our days at Brother Rice and the family atmosphere we became accustomed to.  It’s about discipline and respect, and you always respect people that are around you.  Whether it’s your family, friends, teachers or coaches, respect and discipline are instilled in you, and that’s what helps make you successful in life.

 

What is your favorite Brother Rice memory? 

brother rice high school mi catholic private betrus detroit flex Peter: My favorite memory, also a very proud memory, partly because I know how good the hockey team at Brother Rice is today, but Tommy is included in this memory as he was a freshman and a manager on the team my senior year.  It took us two years to develop the hockey program.   During my junior year, we played as a club team, and then my senior year it became a varsity team sport, and we ended up placing second in the state, playing Catholic Central in the state championship.  It took a lot of time, energy and donations from people in the community to get the club turned into a varsity team sport, and I think today there are a lot of kids who are just as proud to have played hockey at Brother Rice as we were back then.  There have been a lot of great players and teams who have won state championships over the years, so I’d have to say that is one of the best memories I’ve had was being captain of the original team that helped make everything else we see today possible.

Tommy:   I’d say my greatest memory is still being friends with the guys I met my freshman year: Tom Pulte, Greg Fisher, Dan Dietz, and Dennis Ruen.  These are guys I still get together with and make a point of meeting for lunch every few months since our graduation.   When we get together today, we still tease each other about things that happened back when we were in school.

One of my favorite memories occurred my freshman year.  Out of the 60 guys on the football team, I was the only guy that started both ways, which is remarkable considering my size.  I was nose guard, and offensive guard and I remember our first game against U of D, we had their offense backed up on their goal line, sacked the quarterback, he fumbled, and I jumped on the ball scoring a touchdown all in the same play.  Believe it or not, about eight years ago, my son Louie, who was also a nose guard, did the same thing his freshman year, first game, at U of D.

Freshman football was by far my best year, I never grew after that, but I stayed on the team all four years, and it just goes to show, you don’t have to play or be a starter to get the experience.  I wanted to be on that team whether I was playing or not, I wanted to be a manager on the hockey team, I was completely devoted and always felt like I was contributing one way or another.

 

Who is the last Brother Rice alumnus you spoke to (outside of each other and Detroit Flex Defense)? When and where? 

Tommy:  Two days ago, Danny Dietz and I were on a cruise up in Canada on the north channel.  Every year, I get together for lunch with Danny Dietz, Tom Pulte, Greg Fisher and Dennis Ruen on each one of our birthday’s and we’ve never missed a year.  We make sure all five guys can make it as it’s something we honor and cherish and will continue to do until we’re gone.  But now, a lot of my friends are through my kid’s parents and it’s amazing how many connections are tied to Brother Rice.  I’m fortunate to have two more years at Brother Rice with Manny, but once he graduates, I’ll rely on the alumni events, because those gatherings are important to keep us all together.  It also serves as a great networking tool; whether it’s direct hires, business connections or simply new friendships created, there’s nothing like the Warrior network.

Peter:  Three weeks ago, three of my childhood buddies, guys I’ve known from as early as grade school through Brother Rice until today, Jim Courtney, Jim Fontanesi and Kevin Florek, all doctors in their own right, got together at my house for our annual family pool party.

 

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment and how does Brother Rice factor into your success?

Peter:  My greatest accomplishment is working with my brother right out of college, developing both of the companies we had and merging them into Detroit Flex Defense.  Not too many people can work with their brother and have a strong relationship after 38 years and still be successful.

Tommy:  Ditto on that.  I would also add marrying my wife Susie and raising four children in a Catholic atmosphere.  They all went to Sacred Heart for grade school, the boys attended Brother Rice, and my daughters graduated from Sacred Heart High School.  They’re all successful in their own rights under the guidance of my wife and myself and the unity in how we’ve raised them.

 

What advice would you give to a student at Brother Rice today? 

Peter:  It’s very hard to think about, but as a student, you have an opportunity because you’re going to one of the best schools in the country, meeting influential people that can help you out in the future, whether it’s the business world or making contacts with successful people all over the country from Brother Rice.   Have fun, have a good time, but have a goal that you want to accomplish and Brother Rice will help you get there.  Take Brother Rice seriously because that’ll get you to a great college and help you get where you want to go in life.  Brother Rice gets you to the next level.

Tommy:  Respect your fellow students and your teachers.  I can’t tell you how important that is at a young age.  To be brought up in a Catholic environment, the build-up on the band of brothers is such a strong network in the future, it wasn’t always tagged that way when we were there, but it’s true.  I’m still living it with my friends, it wasn’t a band but the network of the Brother Rice family can go a long, long way and it’s a lot of fun. Stick with being honest and respectful at a young age, learn all you can, embrace everybody that’s at that school, don’t just stick to in a small group or click, understand and be part of everything, and certainly embrace the band of brothers and the network that Brother Rice provides.

 

What does “We are Brother Rice” mean to you?

Peter:  I can relate it to one experience.  We were playing Allen Park in hockey on their home ice downriver, which was a pretty rough venue to play, and they absolutely hated Brother Rice, along with most people back in the 70’s, because we were the “spoiled rich suburban kids” and we were great at what we did.  We had to get a police escort from Allen Park all the way back to Bloomfield Hills.  There were fights in the stands and it just wasn’t acceptable for them to lose on their home ice, but we’d talk back and let them know that “We are Brother Rice,” and that would drive them even crazier.  We were okay with that though, we wanted them to hate us because we knew we were the best, we had more confidence, and it always showed in our games.

Tommy:  To me, that quote means the will to win because second best is never acceptable.  Losing is not an option.  This legacy never leaves you, you remember it, you talk about it years after and it never goes away, it becomes a part of you.  It’s important for our kids at school today and the middle school kids of tomorrow to understand that this is the expectation, but that’s a good thing, so we all need to embrace it.

 

How many Brother Rice graduates have you hired? 

Tommy:  We’ve been hiring Brother Rice graduates for the past 40 years.  There’s some students that my dad hired and now we’re hiring their children.  It’s rather remarkable that we have two generations of Brother Rice students that worked at The Flex.  I don’t know what the number is exactly but I can tell you we hired six students this year, we had five last year, it’s probably over one hundred throughout the years.

 

Did you always plan on hiring Brother Rice alumni? 

Tommy:  Absolutely.  We know that hiring students from Brother Rice, we get the same beliefs, experiences, and feelings that we do so it makes it easier for everyone to adapt to what we are trying to accomplish.  We happen to sell hoses but no matter what we are selling, we expect our employees to have honesty and integrity, which is why it makes it very natural for us to hire the Brother Rice student or graduate.

 

Finish this sentence: “Brother Rice is…..”

Peter:  where boys are turned into men.

Tommy:  the foundation that led me to be the successful man I am today.