John Diebel

Bower Award for Business Leadership
Meade Instruments Corporation | Irvine, California
For his courage and insight, and leadership of a commercial venture founded on the premise of making astronomy accessible and affordable to the public.

John Diebel got his start in the world of amateur astronomy in the eighth grade, when he built a telescope for a science project. While he didn't take first prize, the project launched a lifelong interest in astronomy, which, when combined with his entrepreneurial spirit, ultimately lead to his establishing Meade Instruments. He was a frustrated 26-year old engineer at Hughes Aircraft Company when he ordered $2,500 worth of telescopes from a Japanese telescope manufacturer and wholesaler, reselling them at prices ranging from $49 to $235 through advertisements in amateur astronomy magazines. After six months, Diebel was netting $300 per month, enough to quit his engineering day job. He even lured his father out of retirement to help him establish and run Meade Instruments in Costa Mesa, CA.

Diebel did more than import telescopes. He built a good relationship with his Japanese partner, developing custom focusers and accessories that gave the products an edge in the U.S. market. In 1977, the company also began to manufacture its own telescopes, flourishing as the public turned their attention increasingly toward space. By the mid- '80s, Diebel sold his stake in Meade. When the company neared bankruptcy in 1991, Diebel repurchased it for $510 and assumed $2 million in debt. Today Diebel has rebuilt Meade to about 270 employees and $47 million in sales, supplying approximately 70 percent of the world's market for higher-priced amateur scopes, which sell in the range of $600 to $1500. Meade also holds 40 percent of the extremely competitive lower-end market, with models that sell for as little as $99. An engineer, Diebel still devotes about 40 percent of his time to research and development.

Information as of 1998