Alumni Profile

Robert Cruess ’09

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Alumni Profile

Robert Cruess ’09

Robert Cruess achieves business success as an entrepreneur.

Autumn 2023 | Judy Roberts

In This Article

Graduating during an economic downturn and taking a first job in door-to-door sales would hardly seem to be a formula for success, but Robert Cruess ’09 let it impel rather than deter him.

Today, Robert is a successful entrepreneur and father of five who has led business deals on five continents and is the president and co-founder of ZeroNox, a leading provider of off-highway electric commercial and industrial vehicles and clean technology.

In between door-to-door sales and ZeroNox’s success, he wrote home loans for brokerage firms, including one where he opened a regional office with his father-in-law, and began several real estate investment companies, one of which is in Steubenville. Also on the list of the 15-plus businesses he has started is a frozen yogurt shop.

“The funny part about it is, in order to be where I am now,” he says, “I was learning with all these different businesses and experiences, and I wouldn’t have been prepared to do what I did without them.”

Robert and his business partner, Vonn Christensen, started ZeroNox in 2017 after identifying a need for electrification of agricultural vehicles. They pitched their idea to a group of contacts and raised $750,000 in one evening, enabling them to open their first corporate headquarters in Porterville, California, in 2018. Within two years, they had launched proprietary battery technology with a major forklift partner, unveiled a prototype electric forklift, and formed a partnership with Tuatara, a utility terrain vehicle company. Now ZeroNox is considered a leader in off-highway electrification of commercial and industrial vehicles.

The sixth in a family of seven to attend Franciscan, Robert says although he learned the fundamentals of business at the University, he values most the relationships he and his wife, Priscilla (Fernandez ’08), formed there. These, he says, continue today and have sustained him in his work, especially as his business expanded and it became harder to find people who understood what he was dealing with in growing a large company.

“I started connecting with a bunch of Franciscan entrepreneurs, and that has been helpful for maintaining my work, spiritual and life balance.”

Robert Cruess received the 2023 Prof. Edward J. Kelly Award in recognition of his business success and leadership in his field.


Judy Roberts writes from Graytown, Ohio

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