El Hijo Pródigo: Chronicles of Carlos Ramón, BSE ’90
In Spring, Carlos Ramón wore his 31-year-old Baylor Engineering shirt to the Baylor Men’s Basketball National Championship game, which led to his first visit to campus since his graduation. From Uruguay to Baylor, Mississippi to Brazil, Paris to the Silicon Valley, and then Nashville, Ramón shares and intimate glimpse into his remarkable life and career.
Uruguay, Global Family
I’m blessed to be the first in my family who went to college. My family came from immigrants: my mother’s side from Turkey and my father’s side from Spain, a phenomenal legacy of determination. My dad didn’t finish sixth grade, and we grew up in a modest neighborhood in Montevideo. But my parents gave me an education and a determined character. My mom, an elementary teacher for 49 years, resides in Uruguay, so it’s still home to me. That is where my story begins.
Then I was blessed to come as an exchange student to spend my senior year of high school with a family in San Antonio, Texas, who we affectionately call Grandma Sally and Grandpa Roy – they became my American parents. Grandpa Roy, a three-tour veteran from Vietnam, came back and mastered logistics at USC with an undergrad and masters from USC in record time: 3 years. It never happens that fast – unless you are exceptional. Then he worked for Texas Instruments. In fact, he introduced me to computers. He said, ‘Why do you want to go back to Uruguay and study mechanical engineering when the future is computers? Stay here.’ I agreed even though I didn’t know anything about the college application process. He and Grandma Sally guided me, or actually put up with me, through the whole process applying to universities, searching for scholarships and financially closing the gap for me.
Being at the Final Four in April was a wonderful experience for me. A generous friend of mine said, ‘Listen, I've got tickets to the Final Four. Would you like to come and join if Baylor makes it?’ My wife Laurie (Edgar) Ramón, BA ’89, and I drove up from our home in Nashville, and it was phenomenal! There’s only one item that I have kept from my entire college experience at Baylor (don’t ask me to find my diploma), it’s my Baylor Engineering t-shirt I received while in college, so I wore it to the Final Four game. Our friends laughed, saying, ‘I think your T-shirt has a much more interesting story than the game,’ because Baylor dominated the game.
While in college, I remember going to Baylor basketball games right after the Ferrell Center was finished. It seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. Some students didn’t even want to go because of the distance. It’s easy to walk or bike ride from the Rogers Building, so I went all the time. In fact, I remember hearing President Reagan talk at the Ferrell Center.
“Before the Rogers Building was finished, I started engineering classes in the basement of the Marrs McLean Science Building. When we moved over to Rogers in 1988, it felt as if we’d moved into a chateau. It was a beautiful building with large windows. Instead of starting in a garage, we started our careers in the Marrs McLean basement.
I was just having flashbacks last night about designing computer chips at Baylor. The Baylor Engineering program allowed us to be free thinkers and utilize the labs to anything that came to our minds. We had no money and no cars, so we just hung out at the Rogers labs during the weekends.
During one of our projects, as early as our junior year, we designed a chip with 10,000 transistors in a one square inch chip. It was a breakthrough for our program. We collaborated with the guys from Texas Instruments (TI) in Richardson, Texas. I remember we all suited up and made the drive to TI. There they showed us that they had just discovered how to place 1 million transistors in the same one inch. It was unbelievable. Today, 12 billion chips fit into that same space. Anything is possible.”
“I played soccer a lot in my home country, and I had the opportunity to be a walk-on placekicker for Baylor football. I was below two of the best kickers in the history of Baylor, Terry Syler and Mark Mahler. They were exceptional, so I felt little pressure. I enjoyed my two years with the team.
I mostly did it because Coach Grant Teaff allowed me to have free room and board. I didn’t care that I wasn’t the starter; I would kick rocks just to eat food and study engineering. I got to hang out with great guys, get partial college funding, and listen to Coach Teaff talk about his GOLD Dot rules (Goals, Oneness, Loyalty, and Determination). Who could turn that down?! It was phenomenal.
There is this idea that sports doesn’t mix with engineering and science. Truly wrong: that has been proven time and time again. I’m very fortunate to have also studied at Stanford University and lived a few blocks from the Stanford campus. I’ve met many scholar athletes, and it can be done with determination and discipline.
A Christmas Gift
“What can I say about the Baylor experience? I can talk to you about Baylor for hours if you’ll let me. After two years as a place kicker, I hung up my cleats and joined a fraternity: KOT.
These brothers also showed tremendous kindness and Christian generosity. I couldn’t afford the airfare to travel home to Uruguay, and I had not seen my family for almost three years. At the end of the last fraternity meeting before Christmas break, they announced, ‘Oh, by the way, we have something special today.’ One of my dear pledge brothers, Stephen Sloan, [now Dr. Sloan, Baylor associate professor of History, Director of the Institute for Oral History, and KOT sponsor] stood up as the head of our pledging class to make an announcement. ‘Look, we have a Christmas gift for Carlos.’
And I opened it to discover a ticket to my home country for Christmas. I’m never going to forget that gift, and I remember so clearly, it was like $400. That was a lot of money back then. They used extra fraternity funds and some of the guys pitched in.
Two Pillars for the Journey
My dear roommate for two years was a man of faith by the name of Chad Carrington. The two of us went to FCA, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, at Baylor where I came to the Christian faith.
As you can imagine, many years of engineering school, being away from my family and culture is no joke – it takes a massive toll on you. You have to find strength and determination somewhere. And to me, faith was that pillar of strength. I couldn’t have completed my degree at Baylor or endured the career challenges without this pillar.
The second pillar from Baylor, is my wife Laurie. She’s the most global southern belle you’ll ever meet, originally from Jackson, Mississippi. She can learn any language that she sets her mind to. She’s been awesome because, after we got married, she willingly followed my career wherever it took us.
A Different Path
“I was with Dr. James Bargainer, who later became ECS dean. After we had just completed our senior project, I told him I hated building chips in the lab. But I also shared with him that I really enjoyed the collaborative teamwork and how it drove us to a whole new level, particularly the requirement to communicate our project to the faculty and peers.
Dr. Bargainer said, ‘Perhaps you shouldn’t do engineering.’ I’m like, ‘You are kidding me. I’ve been studying for five years and you’re telling me don’t do engineering?’ But, he continued, ‘Go into strategy consulting. Go into communications related to engineering.’
And so, I did. I first went to work for a boutique consulting firm that helped companies transform themselves with technology. The thing I didn’t know was that my first project was going to transform catfish and poultry farms in the Mississippi Delta.
Today, that’s a huge industry, but back then, modernizing poultry and catfish farms wasn’t common or something great to share with your friends over the weekend. But having gone to Baylor served me so well because those small-town settings felt comfortable, as if I was visiting my friends’ parents in their small Texas towns, you know? I loved it.
From Catfish Farms to Silicon Valley
“Baylor provided a good foundation. Those were defining years because experiences there gave me the confidence to go out into the world, and I really flourished. After working in the catfish and poultry industries, I got into some really cool projects helping airlines and some of the largest telecom companies in Latin America to transform themselves.
During one of those consulting projects, I encountered a software company called PeopleSoft. It was the number one competitor to Oracle and SAP, and I eventually became one of PeopleSoft’s first employees in Latin America. Six years later, I was very blessed to become the company’s vice president of Latin America with over 200+ people reporting to me. I was just in my late 20s.
Next, I ran the international team division from Paris, France. Thanks to the hard work and leadership of many, Oracle acquired Peoplesoft for around $10.7 billion dollars in 2005 or so, which was unheard of as a company at that level.
Then, I went to be part of another great leadership team for another company that also became a NASDAQ 50, Akamai Technologies. Great ‘schools’ of the real world.”
Going Global, Startups and Playbooks
“I’ve always had titles like the vice president of international, the general manager of international, building that playbook as a how-to guide, a U.S.-centric company to transport their technology and value to the rest of the world so others could benefit.
There was a wonderful missionary-like aspect to my career. You arrived at an airport, and no one knew who you were. You didn't know where to start, and three years later, you depart after creating 200 high-paying jobs and helping local companies to modernize and create even more jobs. It was such a great feeling. I often tell people that I was an evangelist of business knowledge trying to make the world much better.
I did that three times before someone asked me if I would like to take on the CEO role of a young startup in the Silicon Valley. That was a growing experience for around two years with many ups and downs. Afterwards I decided to join some boards and help others as a consultant, which I really enjoyed.
I sat on the boards of over 12 software companies who either grew from little companies to either successful IPO, or, sadly, failed in that journey. After a while, I noticed a pattern and asked these companies, if they implemented a playbook to be successful. Everyone said yes. But when I asked where their playbook lived, they would answer, ‘inside people’s minds.’
One day the light bulb went on for me – I needed to build a business playbook software... which became the birth of Compas, my startup. I wish I could say I got the idea to start Compas in a Stanford lab and developed a unique algorithm, but no, I developed Compas through the school of hard knocks. I had to build companies cross-functionally, cross-geo, and cross-culturally. And the only way I could keep everyone together was by providing them with our unified playbook. We used to do it with documents, presentations, meetings, etc. So, we developed software, a unified playbook platform, to help business teams win.
I’m back in the game, doing something very different this time around, and I’m having a blast. At the previous companies, we raised capital from venture capitalists and private equities throughout the whole journey. This time around, I’ve decided to be a customer-funded, employee-funded company. I want to be on a different treadmill. I’m looking for quality of life that allows me to have conversations like this, versus the old model where I would be preoccupied with managing my investors’ expectations. I was influenced by the famous book “Halftime” by Bob Buford who emphasizes the second half of your life being sustainable, significant, sharing and giving back in a way.”
Return to Baylor (and the Promise of Latin America)
“I’m long overdue to return to Baylor. I’ve flown over eight million miles with American Airlines since 1992, not counting many miles with other airlines. The last thing I wanted to do when I got home was to get in another airplane. I was always flying near Boston or Silicon Valley and not often in Texas. Stephen Sloan always tells me how pathetic I am for not coming back to campus. Coming back is one of my goals in the fall now that we live closer.
My Baylor years were a defining time in my life. I was a kid from the humblest neighborhood that somehow made it out of Uruguay as an executive and entrepreneur thanks to the love and foresight of Grandpa Roy and Grandma Sally, the nurturing Baylor community, the gift of faith, and the introduction to Laurie, my partner for life! I look forward to my return to Baylor, where it all started.”
Reconnecting on Campus
“Returning to campus at the end of October brought back so many memories. It was a bit surreal being at Baylor for the first time since graduation 31 years ago. I loved catching up with my classmate Tom Ayers, meeting Dean O’Neal and everyone with ECS, and visiting with my old friend, Stephen Sloan.
The other day, I was reading a verse in the Old Testament, Zechariah Chapter 10, and it was about the hope of coming back to your land and to your people, or remembering and being remembered, and when I read it, that’s how it felt coming back to Baylor.
And now, to be able to tour the BRIC research facility and visit with some of the professors and students was a real treat. It’s amazing to see how much ECS has grown. Still, ECS is relatively young, and there’s much room for continued growth. I could not stay long to visit this time, but I am excited to learn more about efforts like the Lab to Market program, which looks a good collaboration of entrepreneurship and technology, a lot of which involves ECS. That gives me a really good reason to come back to campus in the spring!”
Edited by Lane Murphy
(These vignettes were separated into 11 posts in “Humans of New York” format for ECS social media on Nov. 3 and 4.