After more than two decades in a career that has included stints at Boeing and NASA as well as founding his own tech company, Joe De Kroon (’91) has embarked on a new and no less exciting venture. A lifelong car enthusiast, he now shares that love through Apex Euro, a premier mechanic shop in Atlanta, Georgia, specializing in European vehicles.
As a child, Mr. De Kroon — a self-professed gearhead — enjoyed taking apart and reassembling everyday objects. But what to build with the parts of his own life? “I knew I wanted to do something with mathematics, but I wasn’t sure what,” he says. At one point, Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J., the founder of Ignatius Press as well as a family friend, suggested Thomas Aquinas College. Intrigued, the young San Franciscan visited the campus and soon immersed himself in its math-heavy program of Catholic liberal education.
Ideas may seem a far cry from engines, but as a student, Mr. De Kroon realized that there was a deep affinity between taking apart cars and analyzing arguments. In recent years, too, he has revisited that early experience with the Great Books: As a father of two current students — Aly (NE’26) and Abby (CA’27) — he is reliving his first encounter. “Now that I’m a parent,” he says, “I’m seeing even more the benefit of the education for everything in life — for being a spouse and parent, as well as for being an employee or an entrepreneur.”
He knows whereof he speaks. After graduating from the College in 1991, Mr. De Kroon went on to study mechanical engineering at Arizona State University, then worked as a contractor with Boeing on NASA’s International Space Station program before pursuing a doctorate in engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His changing circumstances consigned his dreams of owning a prestige car to the backburner, where they remained, silent but simmering.
“Now that I’m a parent,, I’m seeing even more the benefit of the education for everything in life — for being a spouse and parent, as well as for being an employee or an entrepreneur.”
Mr. De Kroon’s doctoral work kept him busy, but he gradually lost patience with academic engineering. “I wanted to solve problems and do real-world work,” he says. “But the goal in academia isn’t to solve problems, it’s to pose problems for the next generation of engineers.” One way he found to scratch that problem-solving itch (and make some extra money) was to fix computers for families from his children’s school community. “Eventually I took on a corporate customer,” he says.
Meeting the technical needs of his first large-scale customer was a pleasant surprise. “I decided I could make a go at doing this full-time,” Mr. De Kroon recalls. Accordingly, he founded CrownTech Computer Services in 2000, and even though he made the transition with no entrepreneurial ambitions, the enterprise proved a tremendous success. The company has thrived for the last 23 years, making it possible, at long last, for him to realize his old dream.
“I was an adult with 10 kids and had driven all the minivans,” laughs Mr. De Kroon. “Now I had enough money to get a fun car.” His first encounter with fabled German engineering came in the form of a high-performance Volkswagen. Reality, of course, is messier than fables: Even the best-planned engines go awry. When problems arose, Mr. De Kroon found himself unimpressed by the local mechanics specializing in Euro maintenance. “I got tired of taking my cars to shops that took advantage of me or weren’t competent in their diagnoses,” he says.
So, when he stepped back from day-to-day operations at CrownTech a few years back, Mr. De Kroon knew exactly how to spend this next act of his life: Apex Euro, which he founded alongside some like-minded friends. “My goal at CrownTech was to be Christ-like in service mentality,” he says. “The goal with Apex Euro is, in like fashion, to give people the best possible service and charge them fairly. If you do that, you have customers for life.”
Mr. De Kroon looks forward to many more years of working with intricate engines, which — like the equally intricate ideas he studied at the College and the programs he designed for CrownTech — are fruits of time, patience, and love.