By James Dowd, The commercial Appeal, February 23, 2012
Ronnie Randall used computer technology to revolutionize building automation. He is one of the Society of Entrepreneurs’ 2012 inductees.
This is the second in a four-part series on the 2012 Society of Entrepreneurs inductees, who will be honored during a black-tie gala April 14.
By his own admission, Ronnie Randall has always been a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy.
From dismantling his bicycle when he was all of 8 years old — it took him two days to reassemble it properly, but he returned it to working order — to studying mechanical engineering at then-Memphis State University, Randall has long been fascinated by the laws of physics. And he capitalized on that love of science during a successful career as the former president and CEO of Kele. His work led him to embrace computer technology and revolutionize the building automation industry.
“We were on the leading edge of an old industry with new technology,” Randall said. “We took that technology and applied it to temperature control for buildings, which at the time wasn’t being done on a large scale. Our timing couldn’t have been better.”
For his innovations and contributions to the building automation control industry, Randall will be honored this spring at the 20th annual Society of Entrepreneurs celebration held at the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis, 3700 Central.
Randall came on board at Kele in 1985 at the insistence of friend and mentor Roger Johnson, who had founded the company a couple years earlier. Quickly making a mark at the business, Randall made sales, dealt with vendors and helped boost revenues on his way to becoming president in 1987.
“The key to being a successful entrepreneur is that you have to be willing to do it all, and if that means waiting on customers and sweeping the floors in addition to running the business, then you wait on customers and sweep the floors,” Randall said. “You have to be willing and able to do it all.”
Randall did it all and led the company through a series of expansion projects and hiring campaigns. By the time the company was sold in 2004, it had grown to more than 200 employees and expanded from a 900-square-foot operation to a facility covering 120,000 square feet.
Kele CEO and president Tim Vargo, who has known Randall for two decades, said his predecessor’s attention to detail positioned it well for continued growth.
“Ronnie’s commitment to understanding customers’ needs and being able to deliver for them made this company revered and allowed it to grow,” Vargo said. “From a venture that started in a spare room to becoming an operation that ships out from Memphis to every country in the world, well, that’s a significant accomplishment and it’s because of strong leaders like Ronnie and Roger Johnson that it turned out this way.”
Working closely with Johnson, Randall got in on the ground floor of the building automation industry and transformed their company from a temperature controls contractor to a single-source supplier that provided customized input/output service and design.
Fast outpacing the $1.2 million in annual revenues the company generated in 1985, by the time the company was sold in 2004 it was a global enterprise producing nearly $70 million in annual revenues. That growth continues today, with annual gross revenues topping $100 million. The company maintains its Memphis headquarters and continues to increase its international client base.
“I’m proud of him and for him. Ronnie has been a mainstay of our community for years,” said Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald. “From the small company Kele was when he joined to the incredible growth it experienced under his leadership, Ronnie has been committed to corporate and community citizenship. He’s been good to us.”
And even though Randall has retired from the company, he hasn’t retreated from the community. He mentors other business professionals, volunteers for a number of civic and nonprofit organizations and is a consultant for Kele.
“It’s been fun and exciting and now I’m enjoying a different kind of career,” Randall said. “I enjoy helping people and watching them grow. Knowing that I can make a difference is a great reward.”
For more information about the gala, visit societyofentrepreneurs.com.
– James Dowd: (901) 529-2737
Learn more about small businesses and entrepreneurship in Memphis at The CA’s startupmemphis.com.
Occupation: Former president and chief executive officer of Kele
Company address: Headquarters at 3300 Brother Blvd. in Bartlett; additional office in Singapore
Phone: (901) 382-6084
Employees: More than 200 in Tennessee and worldwide