BOISE -- On Monday, Boise lost one of its pioneers in the technology and engineering business field. Ray Smelek, who brought Hewlett-Packard to Boise, passed away at the age of 77.
In his book titled "Making My Own Luck," Smelek explained his first engineering job at HP was designing a very accurate clock for Navy submarines. Over his 37 years with the company, he did much more, including bringing the global computer technology giant to Boise.
"Ray was someone who was willing to take risks. I always think of Ray as a courageous guy, whether that was coming here to Boise or starting the first laser jet product, introducing that, bringing that to market," Bishop Kelly President and a former longtime vice-president of HP Rich Raimondi said.
Choosing Boise as a new technology center
It was in 1973 that Smelek was looking for a location for HP's new printer business, and began looking at Boise. Raimondi has heard the story from Smelek about why Boise made the cut.
"HP had criteria that it had to be within two hours by air of California headquarters in Palo Alto, had to have a good work force, good quality of life, and good engineering. Now, Boise had three of those four, and Ray said, 'I like the first three, we'll work on the engineering side of it,'" Raimondi said.
Smelek helped make the engineering dream happen, and in 1985, Smelek allowed KTVB to follow him around what had become a very successful plant. He proudly explained HP's Boise Division had grown from just a few employees to a few thousand in just over a decade.
"There's a lot of factors that do effect how rapidly we'll develop. A lot of it's technology and a lot of it's our ability to design the right product to fit the marketplace," Smelek told KTVB in 1985.
Smelek and HP's impact on other tech business
Not only did Smelek grow HP's tech business, many in the local technology community would argue he spurred even more tech-based business to look at Idaho.
"All the companies that either chose to start here, like Micron, because it was this base of technology, or that spun off from HP ... all of that happened because of that decision that Ray and HP made in the early 70s," Raimondi said.
Outside of HP, Smelek served on hospital and university boards and governors' task forces and worked with organizations like the YMCA. He received an honorary doctorate from the College of Idaho.
"He was also very involved in the community, whether it be in task forces for the governor, or the chamber of commerce, or working on boards at the universities, at the C of I and working with the college of business and engineering schools, United Way. Ray gave back in ways that made Boise a much richer community, in addition to that initial decision to come here in 1973 for HP," Raimondi said.
Smelek was also very proud of his family and an avid Boise State Broncos fan. Even as he was battling illness over the last few years, Raimondi says Smelek still made it to games.
Recent KTVB interview with Smelek
In 2009, KTVB's Carolyn Holly interviewed Smelek about his autobiography called "Making My Own Luck". Here's a portion of the interview's transcript:
Carolyn Holly: Ray, tell us a little about your background and why you wrote this book.
Ray Smelek: "It started out as something for my family and focused more on stories about memories of my parents and grandparents, as well as my own life. My parents were immigrants and our family tree just didn't exist. I didn't want to go one more generation without documenting our family."
CH: How did it turn into a book?
RS: "The more I wrote about my career with HP, the more I realized that I was writing a piece of Idaho history that also shouldn't be lost. Idaho has a direct connection to Hewlett-Packard's success as a corporation. The company's founders didn't want their new printer business launched in California and Bill Hewlett sent me on a mission to find the right place to start it. I tried to provide some details and some fun stories about how the HP Boise campus developed and grew. And also how it affected the Treasure Valley."
CH: How did your decision to bring HP here impact the Treasure Valley?
RS: "There's no question that it's changed Boise. Highly educated people came here to work for HP and then went on to launch their own tech companies and they stayed in the Treasure Valley. Many of the entrepreneurs in the Treasure Valley today have roots with HP. The fact that HP was here drew other tech companies and suppliers who wanted to be nearby. It's given a lot of credibility to Boise as a technology center."