As a young boy on summer break in the 1940s, David Traitel and his beloved quarter horse, Miss Buck, joined a seasoned crew of career cowboys herding cattle in the Sierra Nevadas.
This rugged and novel escapade over several summers in David's early teens, provided grist for myriad nostalgic accounts spun for family and friends over the years. By far, his favorite tale was the story of eating a daily breakfast of whiskey and cornflakes with a crusty, trail-savvy cowboy named Earl. This lifelong divining rod of curiosity led to a wide array of interests, passions and pursuits over 87 years, most notably in business, philanthropy, politics, travel and included an enduring affinity for animals and Western art.
David, the former owner, Chairman and CEO of Nutro Products, Inc. - a high-end pet food company ¬- passed away peacefully in his sleep October 31 at his home in Indian Wells, Calif. He had suffered from Parkinson's Disease.
David was born in New York City on July 8, 1933. His parents moved with David to the Benedict Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1934, before opting for a complete lifestyle change, purchasing a working cattle ranch in Smith Valley, Nev., in the early 1940s.
David attended San Rafael Military Academy (now the Marin Academy) and the University of Nevada, Reno where he was a member of Sigma Nu Fraternity. After embarking on his career, David earned an MBA from the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles.
David joined the Navy in the early 1950s, rising to the rank of ensign, attending Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Naval Station Newport, R.I. David went on to serve as a Public Information Officer in the Navy.
It was in a public speaking class at the University of Nevada, Reno that David met Joan Garner who would become his beloved wife of nearly 65 years, and who survives him. David gave a speech that Joan deemed the best in the class, catching his eye when she raised her hand to indicate her enthusiastic approval in response to a request for a vote by the professor. Joan was a Kappa Alpha Theta at the University of Nevada, Reno. David gave Joan his fraternity pin the year after they met and the couple married in Nevada in December of 1955. They moved soon after to Santa Monica, Calif .
In 1975, with no prior experience in the pet food industry, David purchased Nutro Products, Inc. Founded in 1926 to make dry food for dogs and foxes, David envisioned growing Nutro into a natural, super-premium health food for dogs, a new concept that created an immediate following among professional breeders, kennel owners and vets. Unlike most pet food manufacturers at the time, Nutro bypassed supermarkets, selling its products only at pet stores such as Petco, feed stores and veterinarian's offices.
Nutro became a market disruptor, beginning with the development of an unorthodox formula in 1985 that featured chicken, lamb and rice. In 1990, Nutro was among the first to introduce a single-protein-source food for dogs called Natural Choice, with a lamb-and-rice formula that contained no added chemicals or artificial preservatives. Natural Choice also made food for cats.
By the late 1980s, Nutro expanded, making its products available throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. In 1992, Nutro began making canned food as well as a line of biscuits and treats. Nutro was acquired by Bain Capital in 2006 and, later, by Mars, Inc. in 2007.
In his early career, David worked in public relations for Ramo-Woolridge, the predecessor of aerospace pioneer and giant TRW, Inc. He later joined Electo-Optical Systems (EOS) from 1959-1969, serving as Vice-President of the division purchased by Xerox Corporation. He subsequently served as Executive Vice President of Walker and Lee, Anaheim, Calif., and Chairman of the Board and President of Sunbeam Lighting Corp., Los Angeles, Calif., from 1969 to 1972.
At the time of his death, David was the chairman of Straight Arrow Ventures, a venture capital private equity company based in San Francisco, Calif. He had recently sold his controlling interest in Denver, Colo.-based Boa Technology, a cinching system that replaces lacing for sports brands.
David served as an overseer at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, beginning in 1996, later serving as chairman of the board from 2008-2010 and as a member of the Executive Committee. He was also a member of the Board of Overseers of the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., as well as a benefactor since 2000 of the San Francisco Opera, where David and Joan in 2008 inaugurated The Great Singers Fund, to provide support in attracting the world's best known singers.
Whether in the form of an opera, a book or a gritty championship battle won by his adored Lakers, David had a fondness for engaging stories. He was the teller of more than a few tales, revered for his turn of a phrase, quick wit and dry humor. In addition to his childhood remembrances of wrangling and cowboys, he regaled family and friends with humorous anecdotes told creatively and with pitch-perfect delivery.
David resided in Pasadena, Calif., for 40 years before moving to San Francisco. He also lived in Indian Wells, Calif., and Glenbrook, Nev.
In addition to his wife, Joan, he is survived by children, Dee Anne (Michael) and David (Lori); grandchildren Shelby, David (Ali) and Marisa; and one great-grandchild.
Remembering David T. Traitel
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