The year was 1960. A young engineer fresh out of college was granted a patent for his invention; an invention he knew would radically shift an industry. The competitor’s product weighed 400 pounds and cost $800. His? A mere 10 pounds selling for $105.
He had a great, patented idea but no money and few connections. What did he have? Desire.
“I started with nothingâ€¦I didn’t have any money, so I rode a Greyhound bus for two years from city to city introducing my product, an electronic valve actuator, to chief engineers and getting orders from them. I built the business one sale at a time.”
Fifty years later, Frank Raymond’s hard work has paid off. Though now co-founder and chairman of a multinational corporation, he has not forgotten those long bus trips doggedly pursuing sales. He wants to use the lessons he’s learned to benefit the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. That was the motivation for Raymond and his wife, Jean, to commit $410,000 for scholarships through the Mays Business School Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship over the next 20 years. Along with the financial gifts, Raymond wants to mentor scholarship recipients.
Taking a product from design to production, launching and selling and merging companies, opening plants all around the worldâ€”Raymond has seen it all when it comes to entrepreneurship. He hopes that through these scholarships, he can help a young person learn in the classroom what he had to learn through the hard lessons of experience.
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After the Greyhound sales trips to build his first venture, R&A Machine Company, Raymond merged the business twice, eventually becoming Raymond Control Systems. In 1976 he sold out of that business and started his next project, founding the controls division of Keystone International, Inc., the oil field services company owned by Texas A&M patron Galen T. Brown. Both businesses grew exponentially under Raymond’s leadership. Eventually, he led Keystone as president of their North and South American offices.
The transition as Keystone moved from a private to a public firm was a learning experience, says Raymond, as greater external funding meant he was able to control less of his company, leading to business decisions he didn’t agree with. After Keystone’s public offering, Raymond and Craig Brown ’75 (son of Galen) left the company to organize Bray in 1986. Raymond is proud to boast that Bray is not for sale and that it has never been dependant on outside funding. He has no intention ever taking the company public, as that would put others in the decision-making seat that he enjoys sharing with Brown, now the president and CEO.
Some entrepreneurs can’t sit still long enough to enjoy a meal all the way through dessert. Raymond defies this stereotype. He founded Bray in 1986 and says the work there continues to be fulfilling, especially as the company grows, adding new products and services, acquiring other companies. “It’s been a phenomenal growth companyâ€¦It’s been such an exciting run and it’s still exciting.”
“Entrepreneurs will never be comfortable for long. There will be happy and prosperous periods and other times when you’ll lose your shirt. The majority of your career will be spent adjusting to or creating change. ”
The life of an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, Raymond acknowledges. “The risks of entrepreneurship are extremely high and the work ethic must also be extremely high. You have to have tremendous drive to do it.” Entrepreneurs will never be comfortable for long he says, as there will be happy and prosperous periods of the business, and other times when you’ll lose your shirtâ€”but the majority of your career will be spent adjusting to or creating change. In that environment, it takes a certain breed of personâ€”and a certain kind of familyâ€”to survive and thrive.
Raymond counts himself lucky to have the family that he does, as their support was integral to his success. “I never had to worry about them being a problem, as families can be if they get scared.” He says his wife never complained when, more than once, he leveraged their assets to invest in advancing the business.
In fact, Jean was also an entrepreneur, operating her own interior design business for many years, so she understood better than most the challenges her husband faced.
“The driving force [for an entrepreneur] is starting from nothing and trying to be successful for yourself and for your family,” says Raymond.
“I think most people don’t have the fire in the belly to take those risks. But I do.” In the end, the risks are well worth it. “The satisfaction is unbelievable. Some people call it the rushâ€¦solving problems, moving ahead, the challenges of constantly developing new products and seeing them become successful in the market place.”
“I must say, even after doing this for 50 years, I’m still emotionally excited about what we do and where we’re going and how we’re getting there.”
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