Trading Spaces | Richard Hunter MS'67
Many parents hope their child follows in their footsteps and takes over the family business. Richard Hunter at first followed his academic interests, until a genetic pull tugged at his entrepreneurial spirit.
The lure of New York City and Columbia Engineering’s aerospace engineering graduate program motivated Hunter to apply after getting his bachelor’s degree in math and physics in 1965 from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.
“I was convinced I was going to have a career in aerospace,” Hunter said. “It was the middle of the space program, and I found the attraction of New York City and trying something different a great experience.”
Soon after graduation, he began working for Bellcomm, a consulting arm of Bell Telephone Laboratories. Hunter worked with NASA headquarters on projects involving the U.S. Apollo space program.
“My interest in aerospace started with the first satellite launched by Russia,” he said. “I was very fortunate to have a broad engineering, math, and physics education that allowed me to participate in the Apollo project at a ‘systems’ level right out of school.”
When Bell Telephone Laboratories exited aerospace work, Hunter went to work at the Toro Company for his late father, Edwin, who is considered an irrigation industry pioneer.
“Aerospace jobs were very scarce in 1974,” Hunter said. “The family business opportunity won.”
In 1981, Hunter’s dad and brother Paul founded Hunter Industries Inc., a global manufacturer of landscape and golf course irrigation equipment. Hunter’s sister Ann joined the company in 1982, and Hunter came on board in 1983. Hunter became president and chief executive officer of Hunter Industries in 1994.
“One of the things that’s fun about our company is that it’s a relationship business, not a transaction business,” he said. “If you can build a good product with enough margin in it to provide customer satisfaction, you’re in good shape.”
For a company that started out with a single product, Hunter Industries has grown to 1,500 employees around the world, including Jordan, China, and Spain, among others. The San Marcos, California–based business also boasts 120 patents and 57 registered trademarks.
Hunter said the business has been profitable since the first year, but he cautioned the entrepreneurial route is a tough one.
“You will need more start-up capital and you will work harder and longer than you expect,” he said. “It’s a 24-hour job.”
Hunter credits his dad with fueling his business innovator fire. The family legacy continues: Hunter’s son Greg, 38, is now Hunter Industries’ vice president of marketing, and son Scott, 31, graduated from Columbia College in 2003 and is now in his medical residency in California.
Hunter remains involved in academia. He was a long-time trustee at Whitman College and also served on two boards for California State University, San Marcos. He has been a member of the Columbia Engineering Board of Visitors. He received the Irrigation Association’s Industry Achievement Award in 2010.
When he’s not busy running the company, Hunter likes to chase solar eclipses with his wife Jan, three kids, and five grandchildren.