DELIVERING newspapers and selling clothes were the humble beginnings from which a young Helensburgh man rose to become one of the most successful businessmen in the United States.
Millionaire Richard Tait, 42 year-old founder of the American board games company Cranium which he sold early in January 2008 to toy company Hasbro for £39 million, spent most of his childhood in the town before going to the States at the age of 21. Born in Broughty Ferry near Dundee, he comes home from Seattle on the west coast at least once a year, and when he visited his parents Tom and Kathleen recently he agreed to answer questions about his youth here and the route he took to business success.
He went to Hermitage Primary School for a year and then on to Hermitage Academy, and he has happy memories of playing football for both schools — “I loved every minute of it,” he says.
“I still keep in touch with the group of friends that I had there, and still take holidays with two friends, Allan and Michael Fraser, whose parents live in the town.
“During this time I had a paper round and worked in Stewarts of Helensburgh in West Princes Street during the summer where I think I fine-tuned my selling skills!
“I come back as often as I can, about once a year, to visit with my folks and also friends in the area. It is still where I call home, and my mum and dad still live in the house that I grew up in.”
So how did he progress from Helensburgh schoolboy to a computer games entrepreneur?
“While I was at Hermitage Academy I developed a keen interest in computers, and I went to Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh and got an honours degree in computer science,” he said.
“I wanted to go to business school but was too young to do that in Britain, so I headed to America. I went to Dartmouth, an Ivy League school in New Hampshire, and got my MBA there.
“I wanted to work for Apple Computers, but they would not interview me because I did not have a green card. Instead I was recruited by Microsoft in 1988 and I joined the company when there were only 2,400 employees.
“I was there for ten amazing years, was even employee of the year for Microsoft when there was 34,000 employees in 1994.”
Remarkably after achieving such success in one of the world\s most famous companies, he left in 1998 without knowing what to do next.
On a rainy weekend away with his wife Karen and another couple they won one game and their friends another, and it led Richard to think “Why isn't there a game in which everyone can shine?” From that came the idea for the Cranium game — and it led to three successive U.S. Toy Industry Association game-of-the-year awards.
“I set off to create a different type of entertainment company, one that gives everyone the chance to shine. We sold over 15 million games in 30 countries and 10 languages,” Richard said.
Of course it was not just as simple as that and owes a lot to his philosophy of life, which he shared with his partner in Cranium, Whit Alexander, another ex-Microsoft employee. That is clearly expressed on his own website, which gives quite an insight . . .
Hometown — John Logie Baird's birthplace, which is Helensburgh, Scotland.
Past employment — Shepherd. Technology Evangelist. Intra-preneur.
Biggest achievement — Elevation-wise: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Professionally: Never lost a sheep. That, or Microsoft Employee of the Year.
Why create a board game? — It's a great idea. There hasn't been a revolutionary one in years, and people are crying out for new connections with friends and family.
What you are doing when you're not doing this — Playing soccer as a weekend warrior. Convincing everyone that Scottish people invented everything.
Experience in the board game industry — None. And that's an advantage. Everything we do, we approach in a best-of-breed fashion. We have no preconceived notions, just a focus on being the best.
Something no one else knew about you until now — I have a motorcycle named Jasper.
Professional credo — Orville Wright did not have a pilot's licence.
Richard was Cranium's Grand Poo Bah, dedicated to giving everyone a chance to shine. “Shine is about connecting, high-fiving, and making lasting memories,” he says.
“It's the glow of recognising and celebrating what makes each of us special. You see it every time a child discovers a hidden talent, a family erupts in laughter, or friends share hilarious moments together.”
That is something he knows plenty about, as he and Karen have twin girls and a little boy.