Keynote speaker John L. Ward (front row, left), an authority on family-run businesses, addressed 500 attendees at Eclipse’s inaugural centennial event. The third-generation family-owned company is run by president Lachland Perks (back row, left) and chief executive officer Douglas Perks. Wendy Perks-Fisher is president of the Eclipse Foundation.

With its next 100 years inviting more advancements, Eclipse Inc., headquartered in Rockford, Ill., last month launched its global celebrations of a century in business. Founded in 1908 by Garnet McKee, the third-generation family-run company now has more than 600 employees and offices around the world. With the hometown kick-off, Eclipse has also scheduled special events in China, The Netherlands and Spain, finishing up the 2008 anniversary year back in Rockford next September.

Originally called the Central Appliance Co., Eclipse took its name from an 18th century British racehorse Eclipse (1764-1789) that may have been the greatest racehorse of all time. He never lost a race. Never whipped nor spurred, the thoroughbred was said to be incredibly self-motivated. The company designed an anniversary logo honoring the great horse’s success and, according to the firm, embodies Eclipse Inc.’s role as the “leading worldwide source of combustion systems and services for industrial processes.”

Very few family firms last three generations, as Eclipse has, said John L. Ward, Ph.D., the keynote speaker at the Rockford event. Ward, who is clinical professor and co-director of The Center for Family Enterprises at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Chicago, noted that just 0.3 percent of businesses last 100 years, and only 10 percent of family-owned firms reach the third generation. Today, Douglas Perks is chief executive officer, Lachland Perks is president and Wendy Perks-Fisher, who is president of the Eclipse Foundation, chairs the company’s centennial celebration project.

Eclipse designs and manufactures burners and combustion solutions that heat or dry products and materials for the food, textile, metals, glass and other industries.