Ron Khormaei (B.S. 1988, M.S. 1989, Ph.D. 1995) on the production floor discussing samples with a colleague.
Ron Khormaei’s first step toward college was leaving his country at age 15. It was 1983, and Iran was in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war. If he had stayed any longer he would not have been allowed to leave and eventually be drafted into the military.
His parents had always wanted something different for their son. They both highly valued education, but not because they were highly educated themselves. Khormaei’s father had no schooling and his mother quit school after fifth grade, so they wanted their children to have better opportunities than they had themselves. Their aspiration for him was to become a medical doctor — the pinnacle of educational success in their minds.
“My mom had a saying that you can gain and lose money and possessions, but education is something you will always have,” he said.
So, Khormaei set off on a journey that took him to Switzerland, Germany and eventually Canada where he learned English and attended 11th grade in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“Leaving my own country when I was 15, I appreciated every opportunity given to me, and so I took it on with full gusto,” he said. “As a teenager alone in Vancouver, there was a major possibility I would get into trouble, but I was hungry to maximize this opportunity.”
And that he did.
In fact, maximizing opportunities became his philosophy for life. This led to a varied career including positions such as director of engineering for HP and Logitech, to CEO at Lensbaby, Circle Technologies, and his own start-up, FINEX. He has also served as an adjunct professor for Oregon State and Portland State University.
But that is not even his whole resume. It’s no wonder the College of Engineering elected him to the Academy of Distinguished Engineers in 2012.
It all started at Oregon State. Khormaei found his way to Corvallis, Oregon through his brother who was working for Hewlett-Packard. He moved to the U.S. for his final year of high school to attend Crescent Valley in Corvallis. Then, when it came to choosing a college he looked no further than Oregon State.
“I did high school in three different countries. So, unlike a lot of my classmates, I did not want to get away. I wanted to stay in Corvallis,” he said.
But he did not stay long. It took him just two and a half years to finish his bachelor’s degree, and although he received his master’s and Ph.D. from Oregon State he did most of that while working in Portland.
Engineering gave me a chance solve hard but very practical problems and truly bring value to people’s lives.
— Ron Khormaei
Oh, and he never became a medical doctor. His switch to electrical engineering happened when he found out that a higher percentage of electrical engineering graduates got into medical school than did premedical graduates. He also realized he could finish faster and if medical school didn’t work out he could always use his degree in electrical engineering. Again, he was just maximizing his opportunities.
But by the end of his bachelor’s, he was hooked on electrical engineering.
“Engineering gave me a chance solve hard but very practical problems and truly bring value to people’s lives,” he said.
He intended to go somewhere else for his graduate degrees but then got an offer from John Wager, who was at that time a new professor of electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State. The deal was that as Wager’s graduate student, Khormaei would also be an intern with Planar Systems in Beaverton. This work allowed him to complete his master’s in just nine months and segue into a permanent position with Planar Systems where he also did his Ph.D. research.
Throughout his career he took any opportunity to learn something new, recognizing that he did not know everything. In fact, he turned down a general manager position for Planar Systems and instead worked on creating his own pathway into management.
“I was offered a position that would be in charge of building 100,000 units per year. I had never built more than six of anything,” he said. “So, I decided it was well beyond my capability and I needed to go and learn something.”
To learn how to manage businesses, Khormaei went to the best manufacturing company he could think of — Hewlett-Packard, where he worked and rotated through several major functions for the next 13 years. He was then able to test those skills by leading five small companies and start-ups since 2010, including Lensbaby which doubled revenues in the two years he was CEO.
Having achieved his goal of learning how to run a company, Khormaei’s latest venture has been the start-up, FINEX, a cast-iron cookware company that he co-founded with a colleague who was looking for safer non-stick cookware. The cookware is manufactured in Portland, creating more jobs for the area. The company has doubled growth every year for the last four years, and is in 600 stores in the U.S. and five other countries.
And although he never became a medical doctor his mother is still satisfied with his success.
“I got my Ph.D., so she can call me ‘doctor,’ which makes her happy,” Khormaei laughed.
Khormaei is proud to be an Oregon State Beaver and is looking forward to speaking at the 2017 Graduation Celebration for the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to be able to connect with the new graduates and welcome them to the OSU alumni family. I feel like we are all links in a long chain,” he said.