Businessman Funds Scholarship, Helps Build Endowment
In 1985 David Der Hagopian ’72 (economics) founded Entec Polymers to offer cost effective material alternatives to the plastics processing industry. His idea was to provide distribution services for a variety of products from industry-leading manufacturers. Today Entec, with revenue topping $1 billion a year, has grown to be one of America’s leading resin suppliers. More than 500 employees work at a state-of-the-art compounding facility, seventeen warehouses and several logistics centers throughout the country. “Our focus now is on manufacturing, distribution and recycling,” Der Hagopian explains, “and we have a full line of proprietary resins that are used for many different products, especially in the automotive and household industries.” Entec can custom engineer resins to meet specific needs and custom color any of its products. The company is well known in the world of plastics for producing the highest quality compounds with the best possible economics.
“I never heard of plastics as an undergraduate, except in the movie The Graduate, when Mrs. Robinson’s husband told Dustin Hoffmann, ‘Plastics. That’s the future.’ I really just sort of fell into it.” After graduation Der Hagopian landed a job with Gillette—“the next job opp for college grads. And it happened to be purchasing plastic resins. I got some great experience there and then at Celanese and some smaller companies, but stuck with plastic resins. Right from the start I worked with interesting and creative people—maybe that’s why I like what I do so much.”
Der Hagopian acknowledges that it’s not easy to start a business. “Anyone who does makes lots of mistakes along the way,” he relates. “But with hard work, perseverance, and a lot of luck, we made it through those tough early years. I don’t consider myself any smarter than most business types—we all operate on the same principles—but I do have the desire and basic business instincts. And I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a long time. As with everything, experience is key—like Arnold Palmer said, ‘The more I practice the luckier I get.’”
Having grown up in central Massachusetts, Der Hagopian says UMass Amherst was “a great experience, though I know I didn’t fully appreciate everything that was available academically. And probably I didn’t take enough notice of the beautiful surroundings. Many of my professors, though, were great—Cadwell Ray single-handedly got me interested in economics. He made guns and butter exciting—that’s almost impossible to do. And my fraternity friends and I were very tight. I’m still in contact with several, including Jess Kane, former president of the Alumni Association.”
A number of years ago, at the suggestion of Kane, Der Hagopian endowed a scholarship fund through the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences for an incoming freshman from Florida with financial need and academic promise. Why Florida? “Living there for a long time, I observed that most kids go either to the University of Florida or Florida State,” Der Hagopian recalls. “They’re proud of that, and even prouder if they’re multi-generational alums. Mostly, after graduation they move back to their hometowns and continue life in that sphere. It can be a narrow focus. It struck me that encouraging a smart kid to branch out to other parts of the country would be enriching. It’s eye-opening to meet people from different areas.” Scholarships like the Der Hagopian, which don’t rely on fluctuating state funding, are a good way to ensure excellence among the student body. Because it is renewable, as long as the recipient maintains a good academic record, the award is particularly attractive.
“I really do believe UMass Amherst has everything, education-wise, and I recommend it all the time,” Der Hagopian says, noting however that having a top-20 sports team would be great. He also praises Chancellor John Lombardi. “He’s impressive—the kind of man who can attract the best to campus. He certainly is marketing the school differently, which is great. And he’s upgrading the physical plant, also important. He’s very on point in helping people understand that in the race for excellence, you can only compete by keeping up the momentum.”
That’s why Der Hagopian believes investing in UMass Amherst is important. “It’s a misconception that state funds foot the bill—costs are so much greater than that annual allocation. It’s imperative to build the endowment. Compared to other major universities, UMass Amherst has a long way to go. I just pledged $100,000—and I’m glad to be able to do it. I know not everyone can make this kind of commitment, but I firmly believe that everyone should make some sort of commitment. Imagine if every alum gave $100 a year—less than 35 cents a day. The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences alone has 38,000 alumni. What a difference that would make! Trust me, you really will feel better about yourself after you give."
May 22, 2006
To read about a recipient of the Der Hagopian Scholarship, click here.