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MEET CAREY

Carey is a proud manufacturer and tireless innovator who is contrarian to the core. His success story is a uniquely American one of common sense, determination and a little bit of luck.

The oldest of four children in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck, Carey learned early that he needed to contribute to the family coffers if there were ever to be any extras. At age nine, he was already polishing his entrepreneurial skills, selling handmade crafts. Next came door-to-door Christmas card sales. By high school he was selling shoes, setting type for a weekly paper and changing bedpans with a cleaning crew.

All these positions reinforced his already strong work ethic; they also gave him plenty of opportunity to observe generous bosses and Scrooges, hard workers and loafers. He began forming opinions about the best way to run a company.

Paying his own way, Carey earned a degree in economics. He went on to graduate school at the University of Chicago, but eventually he faced a decision: either he’d have to drop out or stop working the night jobs that paid the bills. He chose the former. It only took a few years of working the re-insurance game out in the Texas oil fields for him to decide to shove that job and start being his own boss. In 1981, he launched Sprinkool, a company that installed sprinklers on industrial rooftops to cool the spaces below.

YOU CAN DO A HELL OF A LOT WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU CAN’T DO. A LACK OF FEAR AND A WILLINGNESS TO WORK WITHOUT BOUNDARIES IS INVALUABLE, WHETHER YOU’RE STARTING A BUSINESS OR STARTING A CAREER.”

—Carey Smith

Over the next two decades he visited sweltering factories and oven-like warehouses across the country. It gave him lots of contacts, which proved invaluable when he eventually got wind of an even better idea for cooling: large-diameter, slow-moving fans, also known as HVLS fans, for high-volume, low-speed. Realizing that the fans had real impact and real growth potential, he redirected his focus. In 1999 he sold Sprinkool, using the proceeds to start the business that would become Big Ass Fans.

Under Carey’s guidance, Big Ass Fans took off, growing an average of 30% a year, with offices across the globe. It made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies 11 consecutive years — a feat achieved by only 34 others — and expanded from industrial products to include a line of chic, silent commercial fans. When Carey learned that a man in Malaysia had created a revolutionary design for a residential fan, he brought the man and the fan into the company and turned it into a $60 million division: Haiku Home. And when he heard that his industrial fan customers needed better lights, he hired lighting engineers to build Big Ass Light. In less than two decades, he’d taken the company from 0 to $250 million in revenue, without the help of investors, thank you very much. Always outspoken and often provocative, Carey is happy to share his thoughts on how to succeed in business. Interested in what he has to say? Complete the contact form below.

CONTACT.