Great Tale of Boxer Turned Machinist Turned Entrepreneur

The story of Titan Gilroy was shared by the WSJ earlier this week. My love of boxing, my time with, and my belief that entrepreneurship is the cornerstone of personal liberty makes this a compelling story to me. From the article by Dennis Nishi:

After being released on parole in 1995, Mr. Gilroy half-heartedly returned to boxing at Top Rank, uncertain of what he wanted to do with his future. A few months later he got into a fight with a neighbor. He wasn’t charged, but being in handcuffs reminded him of how easily he could lose his freedom — and his wife and son, with whom he’d only recently reunited. Mr. Gilroy quit boxing the next day. “I told my manager ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ ” he says.

The following year Mr. Gilroy moved his family to Northern California and took an entry-level job at Zinola Manufacturing, a small machine shop in Sunnyvale with nine employees. He didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Gilroy had launched his second act. He had no previous machining experience, so he volunteered to work overtime to learn. He also took evening courses for machining at the National Tooling and Machining Association. He quickly realized he had an aptitude for using the computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines, which cut parts out of metal. Within a year, Mr. Gilroy was head programmer and shop foreman.

Over the next five years, Mr. Gilroy worked his way up through several companies and eventually became a manager at Nagy Precision, in Cedar Ridge, Calif., where he worked for four years. When the owner sold the shop in 2005, Mr. Gilroy and coworker Jeff Weaver decided to start their own CNC shop. They were helped by a former vendor, William Selway, owner of Selway Machine Tool, who guaranteed a loan for $300,000 and sold them several CNC machines. “I could tell he was going to make it work,” says Mr. Selway. “He had a clear vision of what he wanted, his enthusiasm really impressed me and he was not afraid of working very, very hard.”

Titan Engineering began with four CNC machines, which Mr. Gilroy worked day and night. He slept on a sofa bed at the shop so he could meet deadlines. And he took every metals job he could, producing tattoo gun parts, paintball gun receivers and surveying equipment. “I’d sleep for an hour, the alarm would go off and I’d change parts,” he says. “I was working around the clock.” He was also the company’s salesman, cold calling and following up on referrals.

The hard work paid off. Mr. Gilroy was profitable his first year in business, with $1 million in revenue. He now manages 53 employees and recently moved into a 35,000-square-foot facility. The company now has 20 CNC machines and specializes in producing highly intricate parts for aerospace companies and Schilling Robotics — a manufacturer of robotic submersibles. Mr. Gilroy, now 39, estimates the company will top $6 million in revenue in 2008.

This is a great, inspiring story with an interesting manufacturing subtext. As we watch the Big 3 and all the stakeholders beg for money to make commodity products based on 20th century technologies, guys like Titan are in the manufacturing space, focusing on the future. Working with customers demanding cutting edge products and service. These are the innovators who will grow us out of our current situation.


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