Executive trades defense career for biblical degree, new path of service

Michael Bridges is studying for a master’s degree in biblical and theological studies.

After four decades in the defense industry, Michael Bridges, founder of one of the Dayton area’s most successful defense contractors, found himself inspired to build new bridges in new directions.

Bridges, 62, handed the keys to Peerless Technologies Corp.’s corner office to his daughter, Andrea Kunk, early last year and since May 2021, started working toward a master’s degree in biblical and theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary.

The focus of the course is designed for people like Bridges — professionals and laypeople who want to serve their homes and churches. Most of Bridges’ course work is in Ohio, but he has taken a few weekends to travel to Dallas, he said.

His goal is to “serve my pastor, to serve my church, to serve my family and the congregation and most of all to serve the community that’s done so much for me,” Bridges said in a recent interview.

Bridges has been a Christian for most of his life, active in his church and in studies of the Bible. But even as he helmed a growing company, he said he felt drawn “to do something more than I had done.”

“After being in the defense industry for 40 years, it was time for me to move to a different phase,” Bridges said. “Peerless is going great, and we have great people, great customers. It was in a great place.”

Bridges recalled advice from Clay Mathile, the founder of local pet food producer Iams Co., who famously sold his company to P&G for $2.3 billion in 1999. People spend the first third of their life learning, the second third of their life doing and final third giving, Bridges recalled Mathile saying.

“I kind of saw me entering the third phase of my life, and it was time for me to give — to my community, to my church,” Bridges said. “What better way to prepare myself better than to seek some additional education.”

Jerry Tritle has worked with Bridges for at least 15 years. Tritle, a senior vice president of business development at Peerless, said this new path doesn’t surprise him at all — nor does it shock anyone who knows Bridges, he said.

“He’s someone who would see his calling in life as multi-faceted,” Tritle said. “He has this professional systems engineering side, and he also at the same time has never left the side that wants to know about the church, wants to know about God.”

Bridges is still involved with providing counsel to Peerless and his daughter, Tritle said. He is simply giving more “of his daylight time and heartbeats” to do what’s important to him.

“He an integrated man,” Tritle said.

An entrepreneur’s journey

Bridges’ 41-year career started as a contractor in the F-16 program office when he was 20 years old, just a few classes shy of an engineering degree at Wright State University.

Bridges started Peerless in March 2000, moving the business into Dayton’s Entrepreneurs Center in October 2000, as the center’s first tenant. He moved his headquarters to National Road in Fairborn a few years later, where the company remains today.

In the summer of 2020, Peerless had about 500 people and $100 million in annual sales, and those numbers haven’t dramatically changed since, Bridges said.

His role today is a simple one. He remains Peerless’ founder and owner, of course, but no longer with a formal title, he said. “I’m on the other end of the phone for Andrea whenever she needs me, which isn’t much.”

Last year, Kunk became Peerless’ CEO and president, effective March 1, with Bridges becoming the company’s chief growth officer, Peerless said at the time.

Kunk had been the company’s chief financial officer for about 15 years.

What does the future hold? Bridges expects to be finished with his degree in December. He and his wife, Marcia, attend the Faith Ignited Church in Fairborn (which also has a Xenia location).

“What I really love about Faith Ignited is, it’s a part of the community, and it reaches out into the community,” he said. “During COVID, we helped a lot of people inside and outside the church who needed help.” The help extended to helping those who may have needed a hand paying bills or simply “being lifted up in prayer.”

The experience of COVID turned out to be a formative one.

“I think I was moving in that direction in my career, toward that third phase, and COVID ... I will say it was kind of the catalyst that helped me recognize it was a good time to do that,” he said.

For now, Bridges hopes he has another 30 years left. He plans to use them well.

“I hope to make those as productive as possible.”

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