Katie Bradford ’20, M.Eng. ’20 went from Cornell to Vecna Robotics. Read more about From Cornell to a leading robotics company
Circuit Design, Product Lines, and Wine: How Richard Hojel ’88 found success chasing his passions
Growing up in Mexico City, Richard Hojel ’88 never imagined that hiding inside a library from a blustery winter storm would be an experience he would enjoy, but satisfaction and success await when one chases their passions, wherever that may take them.
Hojel is CEO of Corporacion Frigus Therme and managing director of HM International, a private holding group that acquires and operates industrial product businesses, generating more than $400 million in annual revenue. But before he discovered his proficiency for business, it was circuit design that brought him to Cornell’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the 1980s.
“Personal computers were just taking off and the field of integrated circuits was exploding,” said Hojel. “It was a very exciting track to follow.”
A family friend suggested Hojel study electrical engineering at Cornell, and soon after, Hojel found himself on campus, in the good company of his Sigma Chi brothers as well as “a fairly small, but strong Mexican community.” And as he studied in Olin Library, he sometimes found himself surrounded by an unfamiliar climate.
“I joke and say that it’s scarred into my memory, but in fact, it’s a very good memory,” explains Hojel. “That very academic feeling of studying during wintery days, that's one of the highlight memories I have of Cornell.”
Perhaps it was because Hojel was captivated by his studies and discovering subjects that fascinated him, not just in his circuit design courses, but in a wealth of different subjects such as physics, quantum mechanics, and psychology.
“There were a couple professors who really brought the subject matter to light. Data or topics that sometimes can be considered dry – they brought them out,” said Hojel, who added that a number of other courses were naturally exciting to him, such as wine tasting.
A foundation for business
Ultimately, it would be a business education that Hojel pursued after graduating from Cornell, earning an MBA from Harvard. He imagined one day taking over his family’s business and when his father passed away in 1995, that day came sooner than expected. Hojel had just turned 30 when he found himself responsible for managing the business.
His late father’s business partner, Peter Meinig ’61, was instrumental in mentoring Hojel through the daunting task of managing a portfolio of complex industrial suppliers. So was his electrical engineering education.
“Cornell gave me the foundation for logical thinking and being able to break things into pieces and analyze them. That has been something that's carried me throughout my business career,” said Hojel. “I never practiced as an engineer, but I use the skills to manage groups of engineers, teams of software and hardware developers, product design groups, and bring all those together and manage them towards a viable product.”
Today, the investment group includes over a half-dozen companies in product and technology manufacturing, mostly in the energy and food sectors. Based in the U.S. and Mexico, the companies employ over 2,000 people and do business across the world.
Hojel describes the processes needed to drive his investments to prosperity as a personal passion.
“Long-term success driven by building organizational culture around a strong set of values and a clear common purpose– those are the things that really get me excited,” said Hojel. “Pulling people together, developing a purpose and mission, and how we’re going to drive to that purpose. A purpose that extends beyond the organization, that looks to have a positive impact on all its stakeholders, including our communities.”
Still finding affection
Hojel’s advice for today’s electrical and computer engineering students is to maintain the relationships built at Cornell, and above all, grow as an individual by exploring a myriad of interests, both in and out of one’s comfort zone.
“I would recommend taking courses outside of your major, especially for people who have technical majors like engineering,” said Hojel. “We have a tendency as engineers to focus on the very practical courses, but courses like Psych 101 and the wine course are classes that also are very fulfilling.”
The wine course Hojel remembers so fondly has become more practical than he intended. One of his group’s investments, Monte Xanic, produces one of Mexico’s premier wines. Hojel admits the winery, located in the Guadalupe Valley, is an outlier in the portfolio of companies, but one that is important to him.
Said Hojel of the investment: “Although not a typical investment for us, Monte Xanic has changed the Mexican wine industry and become a great source of passion and pride.”
This story appeared in the 2019-2020 issue of ECE Connections.