Brian Ray, 44
President, Ray Products, Ontario, Calif.
Q: Describe your company, what it does, and its culture.
Ray: Ray Products is a custom thermoformer. We do large-scale heavy-gauge pressure forming and vacuum forming. We work hard to be more than just a cog-in-the-wheel for our customers, but to be a comprehensive solution. That means we offer everything from design support, to custom finishing, painting and even assembly. Our goal is that after a project with us, our customers will come away thinking, “Wow, that made things so much easier, and it turned out really well.”
Q: What was your first job in plastics?
Ray: My siblings and I all had jobs around Ray Products when we were kids. We'd come in, sweep the floors, file, whatever my dad could find to keep us busy.
Q: Tell us about a mentor you've had in your career.
Ray: When I was growing up, Ray Products was what my dad did. It's what my grandfather had done before him. It was the family business. I learned what it takes to succeed in this industry from my father. He taught me the importance of delivering quality and the value of honesty, and he gave me the confidence to invest in our company in ways that have kept us at the forefront of manufacturing technology for more than six decades.
Q: When did you become CEO, and what was your first goal?
Ray: My grandfather started Ray Products in 1949. My father took over in 1975. I took over from him as president in 2003.
Really, my goal was to not mess up the amazing thing that they and all our dedicated employees had built. On a more macro level, shortly after I took over, it was time to make some major technology investments. In the first few years after I took the reins, we invested significantly in new, large-part thermoforming machinery and 6-axis fully robotic trimming.
I remember lying awake the night our first robotic trimmer was delivered thinking, “What do we do with this thing if it doesn't work?” I remember finally thinking right before I fell asleep, “I'll bet it could stack boxes in the warehouse.”
Q: What's the best career advice you've received?
Ray: My father always said, “Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself, and everything else will work itself out.” That's the principle he used to guide him, and it's advice I've taken to heart. I've tried to do that in every aspect of our business.
When you hire people who are smarter than you are and let them take responsibility for their area, they can excel in ways you never could. Then my responsibility becomes making sure we have the best team on the floor and looking at bigger-picture things like making sure we grow in thoughtful, balanced and sustainable ways.
Q: Tell us about an interesting project you've been involved with.
Ray: Every job has something unique about it, whether it's material or size. What I get the most excited about is when we get the opportunity to work on a project that can really make a difference.
Thermoforming is often a really good fit for high-tech medical devices and specialized scientific equipment. That means we've gotten to build enclosures that will go on DNA sequencers, medical scanners and advanced surgical machinery. The enclosures themselves might not be particularly complex, but it's great to send something out of the factory that could save someone's life.
Q: What advice would you give to someone starting at your company tomorrow?
Ray: Just a few years ago, we had an employee retire after a 50-year career at our company. We absolutely love that. We know it's unlikely that someone we hire tomorrow will stay here for 50 years, but it's always the dream. If you invest in your career here, we'll invest in you.
Q: What do you want your legacy to be as CEO?
Ray: Legacy means a lot at a company that's been around for six decades.
If I can look back at my time leading the company on the day I retire and honestly feel like I've even come close to living up to the standard set by my father and grandfather, I'll feel like a success. That's the goal that drives me every day.