Boyd captivates Technology Council year-end meeting

He used self-deprecating humor frequently to captivate those who attended the year-end meeting of the Tennessee Valley Technology Council in late December at Tech 20/20.

The “he” was Randy Boyd, who founded Radio Systems Corporation 22 years ago this month and currently serves as the company’s Chairman, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and majority stakeholder. Boyd was “interviewed” by Mike McIntyre, Program Director of the Professional MBA Program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

During their lively Q & A, Boyd reviewed his life from the time he was eight years old, working for his father for a dollar an hour, to today where he runs a $300 million company and is widely regarded, along with his wife, as two of Knoxville’s most philanthropic individuals.

“My father gave me an example of what it means to be an entrepreneur,” Boyd said. “He told me that, if you don’t want to quit, no one can make you.”

Boyd underscored that philosophy by telling the attendees that his father, who is in his 70s, has just started his latest venture. When the younger Boyd asked him about his alternative strategy if his initial plan did not work, his father said, “You never have a back-up plan.”

The propensity for risk and passion for over achievement seem to be an inherited trait, based on the life that Randy Boyd reviewed with the Technology Council. He graduated from high school at age 16 and college at age 19, joining his father’s company after graduation as Director of International Sales.

Boyd later formed his own company focused on selling a product that alerted individuals to approaching tornadoes. “It’s hard to create demand when there isn’t any,” he noted in one of those self-deprecating statements.

Undeterred, Boyd said he shifted his focus to electrical fences and travelled throughout the South – farm store to farm store – in an old van that he dubbed “Old Faithful.” He regularly stayed in “the best motels” as long as they cost less than $30 a night.

Six years into his latest venture, Boyd had a wife, two-year old child and $26,000 in the bank. He also had just learned that a company building invisible fences owned a patent that was expiring in another year.

“When I looked at it, I saw a huge opportunity and great margins, so I did not see it as a risk,” Boyd said, echoing the more recent statement of his father about the latter’s latest venture. “I had to bet everything on that idea,” and he did.

The bet was the correct one as Boyd built his new venture with 35 percent compound growth in the early 1990s. He expected to sell 100 units a month initially and price his offering at one-half the cost of his competitor.

“The demand was much greater than our manufacturing capacity,” he said, achieving revenues of $1 million in six months and $9 million in his third year.

After about six years in business, Boyd said that he thought the company had solid traction, but quickly experienced his worst year when “everything went wrong.” None of the new products planned for 1995 were offered, and the company lost $1.5 million on $16 million in sales.

Boyd’s strategy for turning around the company became important foundations for the future. He said that he adopted a total transparency approach, “giving them (employees) all the information,” and empowered his associates to come forward with good ideas. The plan worked, with the company increasing sales by 50 percent and profits to $2 million the next year.

Today, Boyd says that he spends most of his time today with lawyers and accountants, laughingly noting that the “things I did worse in college were business law and accounting.”

With a number of entrepreneurs and small business owners in the audience, Boyd advocated for the importance of independent boards. He said there is great value in “having people that are able to tell you uncomfortable things.”

Boyd is well-known in the community for initiatives that he and his wife have advocated, ranging from tnAchieves to ensure that high school graduates can attend college to the full-service community school model that was initiated at Pond Gap Elementary School. They have also contributed significantly to initiatives that improve animal welfare.

“At the end of the day, we should want to leave this world a better place,” Boyd told the Technology Council.

John Morris, President and CEO of Tech 20/20, noted that Boyd’s story is “a great example of how you can give back to the community by growing a high-growth business.”

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