- Mike Kramer
Pekin native and co-founder of $1.9 billion software tech company dies of cancer at 38
Mike Kramer Pekin Daily Times
Phillis Dewitt says that her late son Brandon’s defining characteristic was determination.
“He just pushed through everything,” she recalled. “He was always wanting to finish things and do things and accomplish things. He would tell everybody, 'You have to learn to be passionate to the point of ridicule.' I think that tenacity and that passion really helped him push through on a lot of things.”
A native of Pekin, Dewitt, 38, passed away in November 2021 after battling cancer since 2014. In 2010, he co-founded the Utah-based software company MX Technologies Inc. with current MX Chief Executive Officer Ryan Caldwell.
The company now employs more than 750 people and has established a client base of over 2,000 banks, credit unions and other financial technology firms, according to an MX news release. Earlier this year, the company announced that it had reached a valuation of $1.9 billion. In a letter to MX employees, Caldwell attributed a significant share of MX’s success to Dewitt’s leadership.
“Living each day with purpose and joy, and setting a passionate standard for excellence in everything he took on, he inspired us all to be better every day,” Caldwell stated. “He loved MX and the whole team fiercely. His brilliance, boundless positivity, wonderful wit, and ability to be joyous and grateful, regardless of what challenges he faced, will continue to affect and inspire those that knew him for the rest of our lives.”
Dewitt’s success in business came as no surprise to his mother, who said that he had an entrepreneurial streak from an early age. He began working a paper route at age 8, and was also in a band that played at various nursing homes in the Pekin area.
“He always knew how to make money,” she said.
Dewitt’s parents also took in foster children, and Phillis Dewitt believes that having foster siblings regularly pass through his life taught him to be a team player as he was growing up. She says that experience also taught him empathy and the communication skills that would serve him so well in his professional life.
“Probably the last three weeks he was alive, he said, 'You know, Mom, what if someone sees me walking? They think I'm perfectly healthy. They have no idea my body is full of cancer,’” Phillis Dewitt said. “And he said, ‘So when you look at other people, you just have to know that there's a deeper story there. We just have to learn to become more empathetic and understanding of what trials we can't ever know about that someone might be living through.’”
Ryan McBride, a lead engineer at MX, agreed that Dewitt was successful both on a professional and on an interpersonal level because of the people skills he picked up during his central Illinois upbringing. What appears to have stood out most for McBride was Dewitt’s ability to make friends wherever he went and to take an interest in their lives.
“(For an example), we walked into a Starbucks, and he started talking to the guy behind the counter, who knew him by his first name,” McBride said. “The guy was thanking him for coming to his art show over the weekend. He was a student artist. Brandon took the time to go to a student art show of somebody he knew as the barista at Starbucks. This type of thing happened all the time.”
Dewitt’s ability to care about the people he met particularly impressed McBride because he was the co-founder of a multibillion-dollar startup. Many people in his position find themselves too busy to concern themselves with the welfare and morale of every acquaintance they make.
“Brandon was half man, half myth,” McBride added. “He had an amazing amount of charisma. His IQ was really high, but he had a really fun, outgoing personality. He was great in front of a crowd, at motivating people, and ... keeping us focused on changing the world. At the same time, he would be sort of down with you working in the trenches.”