He was called by many names: son, brother, husband, father, uncle, friend, grandfather—even great grandfather. He was known as President, CEO, Chairman, trusted advisor, mentor, teacher, visionary, servant leader, champion of the earth and the world's greenest CEO.
Spear in the chest
His life's journey moved him from the football field and classrooms of Georgia Tech to performing on the world stage as a leading voice in industrial sustainability. In 1994, at the height of his success with Interface—a company he had built from a dream, grit and determination—he was challenged with a question that would define the rest of his life: "What is your company doing for the environment?" In an effort to discover the answer to that question, he read a book by Paul Hawken. The Ecology of Commerce made him aware for the first time that Interface was doing much more to harm the environment than to protect it.
This "spear in the chest" epiphany led to what Ray later called his Mid-Course Correction—the beginning of his quest to prove that sustainability was not just the right thing to do, it was the smart thing to do for business.
His mission led him to deliver his message from shop floors to the White House. He was clear, direct and demanding. Anchored in the values of his West Point, Georgia rural roots he pulled from life's lessons to captivate audiences with his stories. When asked how to overcome the challenges and complexities facing the world, his advice came in the words of a Sunday school hymn he learned while a child—Brighten the Corner Where You Are. He pushed, prodded, inspired and chided all who would listen. He challenged us all to create a better world for tomorrow's child.
Yes, he was called by many names—to the Foundation we call him our inspiration.
Ray was a gifted storyteller and inspirational catalyst who changed the way we think about consumerism and production.
His masterful penchant for storytelling was matched only by his uncompromising determination to brighten his corner of the world. What started as one person's mission to change his company's thinking stimulated a greater transformation: one that carried with it the momentum to break from the status quo.