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Tech Triumphs

Ray Salinas ('05)

Ray Salinas ('05)"There really is no substitute for hard work."

Title: Executive Vice President

Hometown: Bossier City

Now resides in: McKinney, TX

Degree: B.A. biomedical engineering (and completed core concentrations in both mechanical and electrical engineering)

Summarize how you and a like-minded friend took on a failing business and, in less than five years, were on the cover of the McKinney (Texas) Magazine as a remarkable success story: I think the combination of intelligence, determination and ignorance served us well. I say this because we were very bright and capable yet too young/inexperienced to fully understand how heavily the odds were stacked against us. Looking back at it now as a much more seasoned businessman, it's very difficult to explain how we managed to overcome all the adversity we faced with no working knowledge of the packaging industry, no working capital and a mountain of pre-existing debt…I guess ignorance truly is bliss because blindly we started down a tumultuous path that would eventually find us featured in several local and national publications as a remarkable success story…We set out to build a business the old fashion way: The American Dream. Hard work, honesty, and integrity are the foundation of Popular Ink Corporation and that's the only way I can explain it. Perhaps a little luck was involved, but in my experience those who work the hardest tend to find luck less elusive.

What's a regular workday like for you? Popular Ink is now a 'round the clock business, six days a week. It's simply the only way we can keep up with the demands of our customer base. Dru (Riess, company president/CEO) manages the day-to-day production schedule and customer/vendor relationships. I oversee the evening/night crew production, inventory/supply chain management and financial stability/profitability of the business…My primary day to day roll is the final voice of approval before any job goes into the live production process. I make sure all quality standards are met to ensure the highest quality and functionality. I make sure our production staff understands individual roles, and how to best set ourselves up for success. I take pride in positioning people where they're strong and can shine…I look beyond the jobs that are currently in the production process to make sure a plan is in place to change from one job to the next efficiently. After all, in manufacturing, time is money…I oversee the plausibility of our company P&L and Balance Sheet at the end of every month to ensure our numbers are as accurate as possible. I also dissect these numbers to look for areas where we can improve and increase profitability…I am also heavily involved in our interview/hiring process. One of the great struggles of any business owner is acquiring talented/motivated employees. Dru and I like to use sports analogies in regard to building a successful business and any championship team needs both all-stars and solid role players. I do my best to find both and put them in a positive working environment. 

Why did you choose this career? I worked in the corporate world for an engineering firm, ADInstruments, in Colorado Springs for two years right out of college. I did enjoy my work, but during my time at ADI realized I do not have the mindset of an employee. That line of work required a great deal of travel, so during my travels I read numerous books about being an entrepreneur and owning/operating your own business…I don't come from a family of means so I did not have the option of being selective in terms of what type of business I wanted to start. The opportunity to take over this packaging company was presented to me early in 2007, and I decided to embrace the risk/challenge. Most people don't realize opportunities until they've already passed them by. I was not about to let that happen; I've known for a long time that my dreams were much bigger than the corporate world. I chose this career because it was THE opportunity to begin my career as a true entrepreneur.

What's been most rewarding about this business, and how can you see it serving your community? Seeing the growth firsthand year in and out. There were many years of grinding/struggling just to cover regular operating costs, payroll, etc. I even waited tables for a 19-month stretch in the evenings (2008-2009) as I was struggling to make ends meet with the unreliable income from the company. I lived in a single bedroom very small loft above a friend's garage for two years, focused on the day when my company would provide the kind of life I'd always dreamed of…When we started it was just Dru, me and one other employee. To date we have 20 employees, and from a financial/revenue standpoint, we could not be more stable…Being able to hold company parties/events, reward those who work hard and excel here with substantial bonus checks, contributing to local charities within our community: all these things represent how far we've come since the days of collectors constantly calling our business phones. It truly is a remarkable turnaround that I get to witness firsthand daily, and that is the most rewarding aspect to me.

What brought you to Tech? I guess it was a combination of the state's TOPS program and Tech's reputation as an outstanding engineering university. I was actually accepted to attend both Rice and Duke, but the overwhelming cost of attending these schools was tough to justify when I could attend a solid state school for free (because of TOPS). I was very good at math, so a degree in engineering seemed to make the most sense…I qualified for additional academic scholarships and was able to earn my degree practically for free. Tough to beat that …

Tell us some of your best memories of Tech: I worked as a paper grader, and also as a valet at the Horseshoe casino (in Bossier) my first 3.5 years at Tech. I worked at Radio Shack my last 18 months of school. I bring this up because it is important to point out I worked in addition to being a full-time student my entire time at Tech; therefore, it was difficult for me to partake in all the typical social experiences of many college students…My best memories at Tech were hanging out with my roommates and classmates over the years, forming memories and friendships that will be with me for the rest of my life. From parties, to class projects, all night study sessions, formal presentations, and numerous crazy nights at Rabb's…all of these things form five years of wonderful memories that I wouldn't trade for the world.

Your advice to Tech freshmen today: The two qualities I find extremely valuable yet scarce (for some reason) in employees is efficient time management and the ability to find answers/troubleshoot on their own. I would encourage freshman to focus on these two things and perfect them during their time in school: college provides an excellent platform to become proficient in both…All employers will greatly appreciate/respect individuals with strong time-management skills and who do not need their hands held through every single process. These skills will also bode well for those who choose the path of an entrepreneur. Multitasking to the extreme is a must for any entrepreneur, and no one is there to tell you what to do or how to do it: understanding priorities and direction is something you have to figure out on your own.

"If I've learned one thing, it's …": There really is no substitute for hard work. It doesn't matter how intelligent you are … If you're not willing to work hard chances are you will not go very far in whatever field you chose. If you're willing to work hard/persevere, have a fair amount of intelligence/talent, and a positive attitude the sky truly is the limit.

What are your hobbies? Outside of work, I'm a gym rat. I competed in my first physique competition over the summer, and plan to do at least one more in 2014…I am also an avid snowboarder (due to my time in Colorado). I try to make it back to the slopes at least a couple times per season.

How did Tech prepare you for business and for life after college? My biggest takeaway in terms of preparation for business is all of the work we did in groups as part of the engineering curriculum. I was always a solid student but was never the brightest in any of my engineering classes. However, in every classroom group project I found myself in, I always emerged as the leader of that group. I learned quickly I had the ability to lead intelligent people. In many cases these people were even more intelligent than I was, but they wanted/needed leadership/direction, and I was always able to direct that path from start to finish. I learned I was able to key in on people's strengths and utilize those strengths in the best interest of the group…I discovered and developed this skill during my time at Tech and it has been invaluable to me as I've grown/developed Popular Ink into the multi-million dollar corporation it is today.