This evening we received the sad news that ETC co-founder and CEO Fred Foster passed away earlier today. A great friend to all of us here at WL, Fred was a visionary, an innovator, a role model, and a true leader. He was 61 and is survived by his wife Susan, and two children, Kate and James, who all currently work at ETC.
Fred will leave behind a legacy of a company that has impacted the theatrical world in countless ways. It all began when he was studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1970’s, under the mentorship of lighting-design luminary Gilbert Hemsley, Jr. It was here where Fred and his brother Bill, Gary Bewick and James Bradley developed a groundbreaking lighting-control console for theatre, Mega Cue, in his apartment. This was where ETC was born and the start of Fred’s legacy.
Over time, Fred performed virtually all roles for ETC – from original inventor/engineer to industrial designer, tech support, salesman, marketer, chief operating officer, to president, and finally, CEO.
Under the people-focused leadership of Fred, the company steadily grew. Despite how big ETC eventually became, Fred never lost sight of the core of his business which was the people: a mantra his organisation shared with our own. He was passionate about bringing people together, whether it was for a new product, a tradeshow booth design or an employee meeting space. Another one of his numerous attributes was his generosity and he was recognised repeatedly for his philanthropy from a number of organisations.
What we also loved about Fred was his vision and, having been fortunate enough to visit the ETC headquarters in Wisconsin, we’ve seen what his imagination could inspire first-hand. When building the current ETC headquarters, he recognised that the company needed a central gathering place to promote the unique corporate culture and encourage comradery. This vision turned into one of his greatest architectural achievements: ETC’s Town Square. Themed after the famous Nighthawks painting by Edward Hopper, Town Square became a New York-style neighbourhood for employees to gather for lunches, meetings, and events. Town Square completely changed the social scene at ETC; each day you’ll find groups of people from all areas of the company meeting, laughing, and relaxing in this space inspired by Fred’s vision.
After Town Square was complete, Fred moved on to designing and creating the London office’s theatre-themed space and the artfully detailed New York City office. He designed and built countless tradeshow booths, and spent hours creating intricate CAD drawings that would drive his CNC router to create bricks, moldings, and other intricate surfaces that adorn ETC spaces around the globe. He was always adding extra details using the mantra “because we can.”
Fred’s creativity, playfulness, kindness, and compassion will be missed by all of us here at WL, along with anyone else who was fortunate enough to know him. He built a unique corporate culture around the idea that every employee should be heard and every idea made valid. He will be greatly missed.