Wright Brothers, Inc. was founded in 1950 by the Wright Brothers. Not Orville and Wilbur, but Charles W. and Morrow. Though not related to the Kitty Hawk Wright Brothers, Charles and Morrow decided at an early age to model their lives and subsequently their company after the famous brothers. The foundation of Wright Brothers is built on those standards – discipline, drive, courage and commitment.
The origin of Wright Brothers predates the company, with Charles having worked for Air Reduction in Dayton, Ohio. He knew that the company was looking for a dealer in Cincinnati, so Charles decided to open up his own business. Meanwhile, Morrow Wright had been working for Ed Turner, father of the famous Ted Turner, at an advertising billboard business in Northern Kentucky. When the Turner family decided to return to Georgia, Morrow joined his brother Charles to start Wright Brothers.
Initially, Charles dissuaded his son, Charlie, from joining the business.
“My dad told me to get an engineering degree and go to work for a big corporation,” says Charlie Wright, CEO of Wright Brothers, Inc. “Don’t even think about getting involved with Wright Brothers.”
So, Charlie did just that. He got his degree and became an engineer and then Plant Manager with the Kenner Toy Division of General Mills in Cincinnati. Later, he earned an MBA from Xavier University and then taught at the University of Cincinnati Evening College.
“My uncle was the one who recruited me back to join him because he wanted to step back from the business,” Charlie said. “That was his succession plan. I thought, ‘I’ll do it for a year and probably get bored.’ That was in 1976 and I haven’t been bored yet.”
When Charlie joined the company, he and Morrow worked out a ten-year equity plan to allow Charlie to purchase half the company. Morrow also made the decision to step back and let Charlie run the company day-to-day. After ten years, Charlie purchased the other half of the company to become the sole owner.
One of the watershed moments in the company’s history came when one of their national accounts’ customers, LensCrafters, decided they wanted to work with one gas supplier and receive one invoice.
“They had 120 gas suppliers, with 120 different prices and hundreds of rental invoices and pricing,” says Wright. “We weren’t a national company, so we put together a network of independent distributors who were able to do one electronic invoice. None of the public companies at the time could provide that electronic invoice, because they weren’t fully integrated with each location. We were the only ones who replied to LensCrafters with the full solution, so they awarded us the contract and we still have it.”
Thus, the Wright Brothers Global Gas was born.
A second milestone in the company’s history was the formation of Vendor Managed Gas (VMG).
“VMG is a telemetry product that we developed about eight years ago,” Wright says. “We did it to support an application we were doing in gas supply with helium. We were looking for a more affordable telemetry because the telemetry that was out there was pretty expensive and we could not find it. So, in talking with Verizon, they said, ‘Why don't you develop your own telemetry?’ They told us they could connect us with people who had that kind of skill set.”
VMG is the only industrial gas company who is partnered with Verizon and it turned out that there was such an appetite for affordable telemetry in the industry that the company decided to run it as its own entity.
Today, Wright Brothers, Inc. operates as three branches under two legal entities: Wright Brothers, Inc. Wright Brothers Global Gas LLC, and Vendor Managed Gas. Wright’s daughter, Ashley Werthaiser, serves as president and CEO of Wright Brothers Global Gas, LLC and VMG. Charlie continues to serve as CEO of Wright Brothers, Inc., with an eye toward moving into a more board level capacity in the next ten years.
“This has been a great industry with great people,” he says. “It speaks well to the industry that people tend to stay in it. I've really enjoyed it. I was giving it a year and 40+ years later I'm still enjoying it.”
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