Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of stories profiling the major candidates for Tennessee's U.S. Senate and governor seats. This week, we began profiling candidates in the governor's race. Visit timesfreepress.com/politics to read previous profiles.
Name: Randy Boyd
Political party: Republican
Education: He graduated from Doyle High School in Knoxville at age 16, earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial management from the University of Tennessee
Family: He and his wife of 33 years, Jenny, live in Knoxville and have two grown sons and a granddaughter.
Work: He worked as a youth for his father’s business, Fi-Shock, before starting his own business, Storm Alert, that failed. But he later turned the idea of invisible fencing into Radio Systems.
What you might not know: Boyd met his wife at a discotheque in Knoxville “and that was the last time she saw me dance.”
› Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
› A number of Tennessee state legislators, including Sen. Steve Dickerson, Sen. Ed Jackson, Sen. Jon Lundberg, Sen. Shane Reeves, Sen. Richard Briggs, Sen. Becky Massey, and state Reps. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, Michael Curcio, Martin Daniel, Ron Gant, Bill Sanderson, Ron Travis, Kent Calfee, John Ragan, Cameron Sexton Eddie Smith.
› More than 60 city mayors and 51 of 95 county mayors, including Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger
› Boyd founded and grew Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville into a business with more than 700 employees and over $400 million a year in sales from more than 4,600 pet products under brand names such as Invisible Fence, PetSafe, and SportDOG.
› In 2013, Boyd took a year-long leave of absence from his company to serve as an unpaid education advisor to Gov. Bill Haslam to expand the Tennessee Achieves program into the Drive to 55 initiative and the Tennessee Promise program, which guarantees free community college and a volunteer mentor for every high school graduate in Tennessee.
› In 2015 and 2016, Boyd served in Haslam’s cabinet as commissioner for economic and community development, where he helped attract a record 50,000 new job commitments and $11 billion in new business investment to Tennessee.
› Randy and his wife, Jenny, have donated more than $13 million to schools and charities, not counting his contribution to the University of Tennessee which named its Center for Business and Economic Research after Boyd in 2016.
Who is running for Tennessee governor
› Randy Boyd, Knoxville
› Beth Harwell, Nashville
› Bill Lee, Franklin
› Basil Marceaux Sr., Soddy-Daisy
› Kay White, Johnson City
› Karl Dean, Nashville
› Craig Fitzhugh, Ripley
› Mezianne Vale Payne, Gainesboro
› Mark “CoonRippy” Brown, Gallatin
› Sherry L. Clark, Knoxville
› Justin Cornett, Lenoir City
› Gabriel Fancher, Murfreesboro
› Sean Bruce Fleming, Bradley
› William Andrew Helmstetter, Cleveland
› Cory King, Knoxville
› Matthew Koch, Chattanooga
› Tommy Ray McAnally, Tullahoma
› Jessie D. McDonald, Nashville
› Toney Randall Mitchell, Cleveland
› Yvonne Neubert, Knoxville
› Alfred Shawn Rapoza, Henderson
› Chad Riden, Nashville
› Robert Sawyers Sr., Nashville
› Heather Scott, Mt. Juliet
› George Blackwell Smith IV, Chattanooga
› Jeremy Allen Stephenson, Seymour
› Tracy C. Yaste Tisdale, Maryville
› Mike Toews, Signal Mountain
› Rick Tyler, Ocoee
› Vinnie Vineyard, Pigeon Forge
› Jaron D. Weidner, Memphis
› Patrick Whitlock, Franklin
› Joe B. Wilmoth, Nashville
› Mark Wright, Murfreesboro
Source: Tennessee Division of Elections
Randy Boyd is literally running to become Tennessee's next governor.
The founder and chairman of Radio Systems in Knoxville is an avid marathon runner who turned his passion for running into a 537.3-mile run across the state over 13 weeks last year to introduce himself — and more importantly, he says, listen to what others are saying — in his first bid for elected office.
Boyd's journey from Bristol to Memphis mirrors now-U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's famous walk across the state in his gubernatorial bid four decades ago — with a couple of differences.
"I didn't wear a plaid shirt and I ran, not walked, across the state," Boyd quipped in an appearance before Hamilton County's Pachyderm Club in April.
Boyd has always been one to run a bit faster than others. He graduated from high school and entered the University of Tennessee at Knoxville when he was still 16. While working weekends and nights for his father's electric fence company, Fi-Shock, Boyd graduated from UT in only three years to become the first member of his family to earn a college degree — and he did so by the time he was 19.
Boyd said he didn't necessarily finish college faster because he was smarter. "I was just cheap and figured out I could save a lot of money if I graduated in three years rather than four years," he said.
Boyd is trying to become the first UT graduate to be elected governor in Tennessee in 110 years since James Frazier was re-elected in 1908 — a message Boyd emphasizes when he sees a lot of Big Orange fans on the campaign trail.
But Boyd would be the second consecutive Knoxville millionaire to be elected if he succeeds his friend and former boss, Bill Haslam.
Boyd is close to the current governor and his family. After making his fortune in the electronic fence business, Radio Systems, Boyd took a year off from his company in 2013 to serve as Gov. Haslam's unpaid adviser on education. He helped create the Drive to 55 initiative, which evolved into the Tennessee Promise program, which offers two free years of community college tuition for most high school graduates. In the same year, Boyd bought the Smokies, a minor league baseball team in Knoxville, from Jimmy Haslam after the governor's older brother acquired the Cleveland Brown's NFL franchise.
In January 2015, Boyd joined Haslam's cabinet as commissioner of economic and community development, a job he held for just over two years before he stepped down in early 2017 to run for governor.
In contrast to one of his chief GOP rivals, Diane Black, who has served for two decades as an elected official in both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly and the U.S. Congress, Boyd proudly proclaims he is not a professional politician.
"It's my first time running for political office so a lot of this is new to me, but I'm having a lot of fun and am learning a lot," Boyd said during one of his 34 trips to Chattanooga since he announced his candidacy.
He is spending part of his fortune to hire a veteran campaign staff, including former Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chip Saltsman, who previously ran both the presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee and the congressional campaigns of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, in 2012 and 2014.
Boyd is traveling the state in a seven-seat Volkswagen Atlas, the first to be delivered off the Chattanooga assembly line last year when VW added the SUV vehicle to its U.S. lineup. When Boyd was the state's economic development commissioner, he agreed to personally buy an Atlas after seeing how local workers in Chattanooga were demoralized after the German automaker was forced to admit it had fitted its diesel engines with devices to cheat diesel emissions tests.
"I told the workers then that we had their backs, and I went down to the local dealership after that and put down a $5,000 deposit to get the very first VW Atlas," Boyd said.
Boyd admits when he got home and told his wife about the car purchase, she questioned what they were going to do with another car. When he launched his gubernatorial campaign, he wrapped the Atlas with the "Boyd for governor" logo and is using the Chattanooga-made vehicle to get around the state — when he is not running on foot. Boyd put more than 50,000 miles on the vehicle in the first 10 months of his campaign.
Boyd says he's eager to use his success to give back to the state where his family heritage goes back seven generations. He and his wife, Jenny, have been frequent contributors to charities in Knoxville and other parts of the state, donating more than $13 million over the past five years and earning his name on UT's Center for Business and Economic Research in his honor.
Serving as governor would give him a bigger chance to make a difference for the state, he said.
"I discovered when I went to work for Gov. Haslam that the best way you can give back to have the most influence is through public service," he said.
As the state's chief economic recruiter for two years, Boyd helped recruit or promote nearly $11 billion in new and expanded business investments that are expected to add more than 50,000 jobs in the Volunteer State. Boyd also helped create the Governor's Rural Task Force to reduce the number of distressed rural counties in the state, and he was instrumental in creating the Tennessee Promise to send everyone to at least two years of college for free. He has also been a strong advocate for improving vocational education and the Drive to 55 to get at least 55 percent of the state's adults with some type of post-secondary training, which is what most jobs now require.
"Not everyone needs to go to college, but they need to have some specific skill to help them get a job," Boyd said.
By the year 2025, 55 percent of all jobs will require at least some post-secondary training. If 55 percent of the workforce in Tennessee gets some college, Boyd estimates that would generate at least $9 billion a year in extra income.
To help expand the reach of community colleges across the state, especially in rural counties where there are not any colleges, Boyd wants to add a satellite campus of Tennessee's technical colleges at every high school to allow students to learn specific trades and skills while still enrolled there.
Boyd also wants to do more to help with drug counseling and treatment and finding better alternatives to addictive opioids, even while working to tighten access to illegal drugs and getting tougher on enforcing longer jail sentences.
He says he won't rule out raising taxes as governor, but in his campaign ads, Boyd pledges to put more welfare recipients back to work with work requirements, if they are able.
In the past, Boyd has called himself a moderate, but he says that refers primarily to his desire to talk across the aisle and work for bipartisan solutions, not necessarily his ideology.
"I worry that too many people in both parties have gotten to a point of intolerance," Boyd said.
Boyd served in 2012 as a state campaign co-chairman for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and last year he brought former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to a Nashville fundraiser, which rival U.S. Rep. Diane Black denounced as a "match made in establishment heaven."
On the campaign trail this year, Boyd has defined himself as a Christian, a conservative, a family man and a businessman, not a professional politician. He vows to be the most pro-life, pro-adoption candidate in the race, noting that his wife was adopted by her Knoxville parents from Germany.
Boyd avoids the often-combative style of the president, but he has likened himself to Donald Trump as an outsider running for office for the first time. Although Boyd has disagreed with Trump over foreign tariffs and trade restrictions, he said he supports the president and his policies overall. He also calls himself a Ronald Reagan or Howard Baker Republican.
"Ronald Reagan could always have a drink with [Democratic House Speaker] Tip O'Neill, and Howard Baker used to say it's always good to listen to someone with a different point of view because they just may be right," he said.
It's a lesson he leaned early in his career while selling fencing parts out of an old Dodge Maxivan. For all of his eventual success, Boyd's first business, a tornado detection unit called Storm Alert, was a failure.
"It's really difficult to create demand when there's not any," he said. "And nobody was demanding that product."
Boyd says his customers started asking for the "Invisible Fence" that replaced the typical physical fence made of wood, plastic or chain link with a radio controlled "invisible" fence with a mild electric charge.
When Invisible Fence refused to sell products to him, Boyd put together all the money he had and could borrow at the time, about $30,000, to hire an engineer to design what he would call a Radio Fence. In the first month, he sold 3,000 units and $1 million worth in the first year. Boyd's Radio Systems has grown to more than 700 employees and more than $400 million in annual sales, generating $30 million in income for the Boyds in 2016, according to their most recent available tax returns.
Boyd has given at least $2 million of his fortune to his campaign so far and says he doesn't want to be outspent by his rivals. In the first three months of this year, Boyd led all gubernatorial candidates in fundraising, netting $606,000 in contributions from donors. Boyd also spent the most in the first quarter, $3.7 million, including $1.7 million on TV ads alone.
Although critics have said he lacks political experience and is spending his way to the governor's mansion, Boyd has picked up the endorsement of more than 60 city mayors and 51 of the state's 95 county mayors, including Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger.
"He has been an incredible partner to Hamilton County — helping us grow thousands of new jobs and millions in new investment to keep our local economy growing," Coppinger said of Boyd.
For all his campaign money and donations, Boyd insists his real strength is his work ethic. On a typical day, Boyd gets up at 4:30 a.m., spends the first hour answering emails before a two-hour workout and then starting his first meetings at 8 a.m.
"It's a long haul, but I'm used to running marathons," Boyd said.
Contact staff writer Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340.