"Manufacturing is part of my blood," he says. "The only way to get ahead was to go do it yourself." Yet unlike many of his era, Ray wasn't born into the PCB business. As a teen, he worked in the textiles mills in Laconia, NH. After high school, he moved to New Jersey, where he cycled through a series of jobs, finally landing back in New Hampshire with the defense contractor Sanders as a planner in the Flexprint division. He narrowly missed a layoff, his job saved because he made 20 cents an hour less than a colleague. One of his side jobs was to drive company executives to Boston, during which he picked up priceless advice about sales and management. At that time, he began taking night classes to, in his words, "fill in the blanks" with knowledge he couldn't get on the job.
Eventually, Ray migrated to Electropac, which at the time was located in Peterborough, NH, where he spent two-plus years in purchasing, and then to Bourns, where he made countless connections in the semiconductor industry. Later he became a materials manager at a company that would buy semiconductors that had failed testing, manually test the parts to commercial specs, then resell the good ones to companies like Philco and Motorola. Among the scrapped materials they would buy were printed circuit boards. When a friend set up a rep business to sell PCBs. When the business reached about $4 million, Ray was motivated to build his own prototype shop. He teamed up with his father and another partner and took the plunge.
Along the way, Ray's friends were ready to help. Joe LaLiberte, who had hired Ray at Sanders, counseled him against starting a shop, but loaned him equipment. Other machines came from Hadco, as did scrap laminate and old chemistry. "We kept Hadco's backyard clean," Ray laughs. Hadco also supplied technical knowledge; its workers moonlighted on Ray's second shift.
When the Electropac name came available due to an acquisition, Ray jumped on it, attracted to its brand and reputation. Another "acquisition" was the hiring of Otto Jespersen, a PCB savant who came recommended by several vendors. "Our success, technology, facility layout was all Otto," Ray recalls. "If not for him, we would not have become the company we are."
The shoestring operation withstood various near-death experiences with bad boards and business cycles. An industry crash in 1987 would have wiped out the company had it not have been for the graces of its bank. The company had to sell one plant to cover a lawsuit, and Ray paid $1 million to fully fund the pensions for its employees at its Montreal site post-acquisition, even though Electropac wasn't responsible for it. "It wasn't mine. They earned it," he shrugs.
Eventually, Electropac was turning other people's garbage into gold. The company peaked at $55 million in sales, and had expanded to seven shops in the US, UK and Canada. In 2001, a deal to purchase Zhuhai Circuits in China was on the horizon. A new 100,000 sq. ft. shop was planned. But Ray couldn't convince the right person to move to manage the shop. Absent a trustworthy lieutenant, he let the deal fall through. "Had we done [the deal], we'd still be at $55 million," he says, without a hint of regret.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, with M&A rampant, and millions of dollars in play Ray resisted any temptation to sell out. "Most guys sell at the peak. I kept it going for the sake of the people who built this place." Some of those original workers are still at Electropac today, as are Ray's sons, Raymond Jr. and Troy. (His sales manager is Paul LaLiberte, Joe's son.)
Indeed, some of them will even survive Ray, now 75, who is retiring this year. Electropac is on the block, and Ray is offering his soon-to-be-former employees the chance to take over the company.
Ray has pumped millions back into the business over the past decade, and some folks will whisper that he should have been one of those who took the money and ran. That's not who Ray is. He has always put others first. In my book, that's success.
P.S.: PCD&F launched a new website in April, and Circuits Assembly follows this month. We think the new sites redefine what is possible in bringing good technical and industry information to our readers in the fastest and clearest way possible. We welcome your feedback.
Finally, we strive to keep PCD&F/CIRCUITS Assembly as commercial-free as possible. However, in "Automating Stencil Design," last month's cover story by Chrys Shea, we failed to acknowledge that the developer of the ARTE software is Alpha. Our apologies to all for the hyper-vigilant editing and any subsequent confusion it may have caused.