Ray became the first member in his family to graduate from college and eventually wound up as the CEO of a national corporation. Since retiring from the executive suite, he’s refocused his life and is now striving to help lift and inspire other youth- just as he had been as when he was young.
Alan: Welcome back, I'm here today with ray Dillon he's a retired CEO of Delta timber corporation and Ray welcome to today's show.
Ray: Thank you Alan, glad to be here.
Alan: So Ray for the listeners can you bring us through college, your career path and what brought you up to where you are today?
Ray: Well Alan if I could, let me start a little further back because I'm not supposed to be here today. I'm a farm boy from south Mississippi that was very blessed to grow up in a home with loving parents and parents that had high expectations for their children. So along the way we had an older sister, who, a gentleman came into her life that had a big impact on both my brother and I. And he was a chemical engineer and he worked in the forest products industry and I was in the ninth grade in high school. And I watched him and his success and I decided that chemical engineering was a great profession and I happened to be good in math and science- and my undergraduate degree is in chemical engineering from Mississippi State University- and I knew in the ninth grade I was going into chemical engineering and I knew I was going in the forest products industry and pulp and paper industry and I did. I also knew I was going to be a CEO one day, because hard work, education and discipline would lead to success and success would be rewarded. I was very wealthy from having loving parents and an environment that encouraged performance, but yet motivated to do very well.
Alan: Sometimes putting our treasures in the right thing makes all the difference as we move through life.
Alan: So Ray you came out of school, you're Chemical Engineer-
Ray: First one to graduate college in our family.
Alan: And then where did you start?
Ray: I grew up in south Mississippi and my first job was in a community called Bogalusa, Louisiana, for Crown Zellerbach corporation, that corporation no longer exists, but I was an entry level engineer there, very blessed that right after going to work there was a significant modernization of the mill and I got to be associated with that project team. So if you're a young engineer, you walk right into a situation where you're using all your engineering talents and yet you're exposed to mentors that help you learn quickly and so we modernized the mill and then I came through the mill management chain. I was a department head then, I was a mill manager at another facility and have rebuilt facilities and then wound up in the executive suite in Chicago, Illinois with that company before it was sold. I've never had a job that I didn't like and candidly I've never had a job as hard as working on the farm. So hard work was part of my DNA and then being in capital intensive industries that quite frankly margins are very thin, it's very difficult to earn the cost of capital in those industries, so it required excellent operational performance and quite frankly you were always trying to gain an advantage of beyond your competitor to be able to stay in business and so those were great training grounds for me and then through a series of management assignments and then winding up in a corporate office I went back to business school at the University of Chicago and got an MBA in 2000 which was one of the greatest experiences in my life, that that literally I could go to class on the weekend and practice what I learned on Monday morning being in the positions that I was in. And so then when that company was sold, Delta timber was looking for a CEO and I was available and had worked in Arkansas previously, and so it was a natural connection. I went to work there in 2003 and retired in October of 2016. It's a great company, quite frankly with great assets and I'm very proud of the fact that through the Great Recession our company was profitable every year without any financial engineering and without liquidating any valuable resources at a bad time.
Alan: Well that's saying a lot because you've went through both some ups and downs in the economy during your tenure there.
Ray: And hope we never see a down like we did and because the great recession affected housing more than any other segment of the economy. I mean we went from over 2 million housing starts to less than 300,000 housing starts.
Alan: Hurricane Katrina was that during your tenure there?
Ray: Yes Hurricane Katrina it was, but actually disasters don't really spur a lot of demand because the disaster occurs, then there's the cleanup, then there's the insurance reconciliation and then there's the decision whether the previous owner rebuilds or not. So it's a long process and it doesn't have an immediate impact on demand so to speak as far as wood products is concerned.
Alan: Deltic Timber Corporation was the land primarily over in Mississippi?
Ray: Owned over 500,000 acres primarily in the state of Arkansas. Deltic Timber was a spinoff from Murphy Oil and the Murphy family in Arkansas. They had accumulated several thousand acres of land and that was the beginning of Deltic Timber. And then then as we were spun out from Murphy in 1997, then we acquired more land and added to that land base, but you know one of the valuable assets in Deltic Timber its land base and with an invested cost basis of less than $600 an acre. And so a great asset base in a great location. Arkansas grows some of the best timber in the whole world. And so then we were vertically integrated into solid wood product manufacturing and lumber. And then with every land and timber company there's always land that becomes land that gets developed and especially land this near of metropolitan areas. And Deltic was very fortunate to have several thousand acres west of Little Rock which is the state capital for Arkansas. And so we have a premier development there, Chenal Valley, which is a five thousand acre development, and also Deltic has many of its oil and gas minerals in the state of Arkansas and we've benefitted greatly from the Fayetteville shale development, it was one of the first natural gas shale developments. The way I would characterize it is there's so many benefits to owning land. One would be, they're not making any more of it, but you've got what it can grow and also the minerals that are beneath it and you never know when they're going to- I'll call it, be developed.
Alan: I'm visiting here today with Ray Dillon, he's the former CEO of Deltic Timber Corporation. Ray I need to take a quick break and we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back and visiting here today with Ray Dillon he's the former CEO of Deltic Timber Corporation. Ray in the first segment we talked about how at an early age you had a desire to become a chemical engineer, be a CEO of a company in the industry and then it actually all happened. So it's interesting in life, as we set out with our goals, and then those goals are fulfilled, how did you evaluate what the next step is?
Ray: Well I've been Deltic's CEO for over 13 years and quite frankly that's almost four times what the normal average for today's CEO's lifespan is, and very fortunate to be in a position to help others quite frankly experience what I did, and I had worked literally all of my life but essentially over 40 years in industrial manufacturing and executive positions and so it's an opportunity to give back and I was fortunate enough to be able to do that. So, working with Deltic board we planned an exit strategy and for both myself and the successor and it has allowed me now to work with two organizations that I'm very close to, Methodist Family Health- essentially they started as an orphanage in Arkansas many years ago, but it's really turned into a mental health service. So essentially, we're providing mental health services for adults and children that quite frankly are dysfunctional in their relationships and so we're trying to help them bond or we're trying to help them get in environments where they can be successful and be the most that they can be or best they can be. Another organization that I worked with is a organization called Arkansas Sheriff Youth Ranch. And this organization is started by the sheriffs Association in Arkansas, and when there would be a domestic violence situation and the sheriff's having to deal with it, you go in and there's children, what do you do with the children? They didn't have any place to care for the children, you don't want to take them to jail. So we have ranches where we have beds and foster parents where these children can go being in a loving environment and also being a ranch environment, where they're taught to care for live animals they're taught responsibilities, discipline- as far as work is concerned and we try to focus them towards school and toward church and rescue them from the environment that they were in and someone like myself to spend time with those that I can and tell them my story and tell them that they can be just as successful as me, 'these are the these are the tools you need to do that and this is the effort that it takes to accomplish that.'
Alan: I'm visiting today with Ray Dillon he is the former CEO of Deltic Timber Corporation. Ray I need to take a quick break and we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back and visiting here today with Ray Dillon, he's the former CEO of Deltic Timber Corporation and Ray in the previous segment we were talking about how you had a succession plan, you moved out of being the CEO and moved into a life more of service and philanthropy, primarily working with disadvantaged youth. When you're working, what capacity are you serving? Are you a board member or are you day-to-day operations?
Ray: I generally serve as board members of both the operating unit and most of these organizations have a foundation where we're raising money to sustain the organization for the long term we'll hopefully raise enough money for their foundations so that the investment income will be at least half of their operating expenses and so it's a really two-pronged effort to serve when they need you to help them operationally, but primarily its fundraising and oversight is the best way I would characterize it, but you can't when you get to know some of these individuals stories you can't help but reach out to them and try to help them.
Alan: Is there a spiritual aspect to the way you're working with youth today?
Ray: Absolutely, I would say that spiritually you're led to help others and as we're taught to help those that are least among us and give those a chance that literally won't have a chance unless someone gives them a hand. And unless my brother in law had come into my life, there's no telling where I would have been today. So a mentor, an example and so many individuals don't have that example today in the broken homes that we have and generally those broken homes lead to bad outcomes for children because they're not- quite frankly managed supervised and developed.
Alan: You're seeing at a part of life that's not always pleasant- the broken homes, troubled youth and what's the best way for reaching out and helping these kids?
Ray: I try to help them see it's not their situation today that counts, it's their situation tomorrow. And they can't change the situation today except starting in the morning. It's like golf, the only shot that's important is the next one, because the because the one you just hit is done. So try to use sports as an analogy to help them with where they're at in life and their life's aren't over, their lives are just beginning. And they can change whatever situation they're in- beginning tomorrow with help.
Alan: Do you find some of the kids are broken starting out as you try to pick them up?
Ray: Broken is a word, I would call it confused and confused because of the situation they've been in and secondly they just don't have an idea of how to change the environment they've been in. You can't do that without someone showing you a different model or a different method and then you'll find those that want to change and you'll find those that that just can't accept the responsibility to take that challenge.
Alan: So going back to the ranch, are the kids are for a certain period of time?
Ray: Generally until we can get them passed high school and encourage them then to go into their the career that that they desire whether that's a technical education or whether it's a formal education in college and then we try to help them secure scholarships to be able to pay for that.
Alan: Can you think of some success stories that you've been part of as you've worked with the kids?
Ray: Well there's one particularly, we have a annual dinner function and recognize individuals that have worked in Sherriff Youth Ranch and I happened to be honored last year at that event. There was a young man there, Chris was his name, that really grew up in a broken dysfunctional home and wound up and had done very good in school and was graduating and it was entering the military and he was going to be a great, quite frankly, representative for our country wherever he was assigned. He was going into the military so he could pay for college and that young man will do great.
Alan: Would you say that's the exception to the rule?
Ray: Certainly he's one of our leading examples. It's the third-third-third rule, a third are going to do great, a third will do okay and then the third we'll have to refurbish again. And some just won't make it.
Alan: What do you say the biggest challenge is of the family today? You know it's interesting how you had moved from running a large public corporation to serving and would you go back into running companies again?
Ray: I think we tend to live in a society today that parents aren't as focused as they should be on their children, whereas my mom and dad would sacrifice- literally their last dime for their family, for their children to have more than they did and to be able to do better than they did. And so whether you call it love, or commitment today, many parents aren't as committed to the future of their children, is the way I would characterize it. It's sad because without that strong family environment and strong accountability, strong expectations, inside the home, school teachers can't fix that equation, all they can do is deal with it the best they can, but they can't fix that equation that's coming from the organic expectation that you will you will go to school you will learn, you we'll perform or you will be held accountable in today's world.
What's your what's your outlook right now?
Ray: You know I grew up on a farm so I'm a problem solver. I'm an engineer so I'm a builder and a problem solver. So yes I would consider opportunities that need someone with my skill set, and you know I've not run out of gas, I'm just refocused at the current time.
Alan: Well it could be refocused for a reason to- make a difference in the lives of those people that you're serving.
Ray: I don't think there's any doubt about that.
Alan: I've been visiting here today with Ray Dillon, he is a former CEO of Deltic Timber Corporation, also a board member of local charities and philanthropy and Ray we're out of time right now but I'd like to thank you for being on today's show.
Ray: Thank you so much Alan, it’s been a pleasure