Biography of Ronald J. Riley

 

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I had the benefit of access to facilities and participating in an engineering club at Kettering University, formerly General Motors Institute (GMI) from seventh grade through twelfth grade. I was exposed to many state of the art developments such as metal cutting lasers, plasma cutters, image intensification X-ray, plastic molding processes, and numerous metal fabricating processes. This exposure was a crucial element in my becoming an inventor and the reason I shared Jerome Lemelson's visions about education.

I tried to involve Kettering in Mr. Lemelson's activities several times, to no avail.   Kettering's co-op program is in many ways consistent with Lemelson's vision of creating the next generation of entrepreneurs with E-Teams.  In fact, numerous Kettering alumni have become inventors and entrepreneurs.  Two examples are Doug Hougen and Milford Barron.

Unfortunately, the bureaucrats running Kettering dropped the ball numerous times, and never took the opportunity to network with Jerome Lemelson.  And the really funny part is that when I exposed their incompetence and indifference to local media and the Mott Foundation they claimed they did not participate because the deals were a done deed.   Yet I have officials from other institutions vigorously pursuing me for the same  opportunity.  That is because the Lemelson Foundation has already given away at least $30 million and there are hundreds of millions of additional dollars which will be distributed to promote innovation in the future. 

In retrospect this doesn't really surprise me.  As I said before, the time I spent at Kettering-GMI is significant factor in my becoming an inventor and entrepreneur.   One reason was the exposure to a great deal of technology and the guidance from a number of Kettering-GMI professors, all of whom have retired except Dr. Reginald G. Bell , and I am grateful for their efforts. 

But another reason which is just as important, is that I learned that I should stay as far away from big companies as possible (GMI was owned by General Motors at that time).  And that is exactly what I did.  I worked for numerous smaller companies, where I acquired a broad spectrum of skills.  This was very important to my later success as an independent inventor.  Another important reason for my success as an independent inventor was my study of the history of inventors, especially a number of contemporary inventors.

My family didn't have the money to send me away to college as a result of expenses associated with my mothers poor health. I was earning a living freelancing engineering and construction (commercial sound and security systems) work while living at home. When I enrolled in college I found it very difficult to keep my mouth shut when instructors were teaching things about science and engineering which I felt were not relevant or in some cases were clearly wrong.

I bounced in and out of college starting in 1968. I would enroll in classes and part way through the term I would land an engineering project and drop one or more classes because I couldn't ( really didn't want to ) keep up the class work and the outside project, and the project was much more interesting anyway.

Young men often have large egos and I was no exception. I did not see any use for literary skills both in primary and secondary school. I usually did the minimum required to get by in those areas. Ten years later I discovered that the ability to write, to convey ones ideas, are very important. Today I write for numerous prominent publications and I often tell young people about my experiences to encourage them to get a well rounded education.

An interesting side effect of my difficulties in K-5th grade, and my  obstinence in only being interested in science and math from 6th-College, is that my education is not well rounded.  Although I am filling in the gaps now.  Examples of areas where I am deficient are spelling, the dates of holidays, and punctuation.  Areas where I excel are in composition, abstract reasoning, science and math.  It is a shame that I did not make my fortune while I still knew it all, i.e. 18 years old or so.

I started inventing in my late teens but did not pursue patents until 1985, in large part because I didn't perceive them as being enforceable. I concentrated on acquiring a broad mixture of skills, and building financial assets, which I knew would be necessary to succeed as an inventor and entrepreneur.

During the recession that started in 1971 I was working on about a $70,000 project. I had bootstrapped my business from nothing to approximately $250,000 in assets. The company for which I was working went bankrupt owing me $44,000. Other work was not available at that time, destroying my business.

I ended up with an ulcer, returned to my parents home, living in their basement, and suffered several years of meager economic existence. After a year or so my parents kicked me out of the nest, something that angered me at the time, but in retrospect was the best thing for me since I was hiding from the world, licking my wounds so to speak.  The end result of that experience is that I have a depression era mentality concerning debt and finance and understand that control of receivables is crucial to the success of any business.

After my business collapsed I decided to continue working in the medical electronics area. I worked for two companies for about a year and then decided I would prefer to work in industrial controls. In the 1975 through 1980 time frame I started working extensively with microprocessors. I began  writing technical articles for news letters and developed decent writing skills. I spent three years as a plant engineer, six years with a manufacturer of industrial automation doing controls, and six years heading up an R&D group which developed industrial control products.

My last employer (I was in charge of an R&D group for a subsidiary of Sun Oil) was sold in a leveraged buyout that caused numerous cuts in personnel. I quickly came to the conclusion that I could not perform effectively in the corporate environment which was dominated by huge debt and short term management goals. I made an offer to the President of that employer to become an outside contractor. He accepted my offer and they continue to be one of my best clients.

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