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Making the Inc. 5000 List While Building a Better World

Ray Vazquez Has Done it Twice. Here's His Story.

Measuring success in today’s society isn’t always easy, but certainly one external measure is making the Inc. Magazine 5,000 list of fastest growing companies in the U.S. Round Hill resident Ray Vazquez has done it twice, most recently with his company Vertex 11 (vertex11.com), offering cybersecurity, risk management, continuity of operations and data protection tools to other businesses.

We sat down with Ray at Magnolia’s at the Mill to learn what accounts for the rapid growth of Vertex 11 and what helped make this 1st generation Caribbean American so successful. We encountered a blossoming entrepreneur, a savvy tech strategist, a rock-solid business proposition and miles and miles of heart.

We say blossoming entrepreneur because Ray’s upbringing didn’t groom him to become a risk-taker. Ray’s mom left Cuba in the 1960’s, sponsored by the Catholic Church in Miami. After living with a Mexican American family for a few years, she moved to New Jersey where she met Ray’s dad, who was from Puerto Rico, on a bus. Ray’s dad had to fend for himself at an early age as his mom died when he was three old. Losing his mom at such an early age influenced several philosophies in his view of life.  Chief amongst them was, what can go wrong will go wrong.  

“My dad’s way of motivating me was to tell me, ‘You’re never going to amount to anything,’” says Ray. To cement the lesson – either of how far they’d come or how far he could fall isn’t clear – Ray’s dad would often invite a homeless person to lunch. There, the guest would be invited to tell his or her personal experience and Ray’s dad would counsel his son on how to avoid a similar fate.

Ray, who was just 10 years old at the time, found the lessons traumatic. “That was his way of trying to scare us into going to school and working hard. However, I would not recommend this methodology for motivation.” Ray’s takeaway was the intended, “I will prove you wrong. That’s not where I’m going.”

While he worked hard at school, he set his sights on a local trade school in avionics engineering rather than college. When he met his future wife, she told him that if he weren’t going to college, “My dad’s going to kill you. You won’t even get out of the driveway!” So, at the last minute, he applied to Florida International University but still hadn’t chosen a career.

According to Ray, he picked up the Yellow Pages and started with the “A’s” calling first architects, then attorneys, and finally accountants. His assessment: the architects didn’t make much money though their work was enjoyable, the attorneys made lots of money but there were too many in Miami, and the accountants said they would never make as much as attorneys but would always have a job. “So, I decided to become an accountant... The next thing you know, I’m interviewing with Price Waterhouse and that’s where I got my first job out of college.” Because he did well in an IT auditing program that involved robotics and critical problem solving, he was trained in every existing computer system at the time and met a guy named George Kurtz who in 2011 founded a “little” company called Crowdstrike.

From Kurtz, Ray learned how to hack into computer systems – a practice now known as being a “white hat” hacker, someone uses hacking skills to identify security vulnerabilities in hardware, software or networks. Kurtz co-wrote a book called Hacking Exposed, then left Price Waterhouse to create Foundstone, a company he sold to McAfee before founding Crowdstrike in 2011.

Ray’s goal at the time was to become a partner in 10 years, a goal hastened by his work leading company training on compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which put in place internal corporate controls and financial accountability in the wake of the Enron and MCI accounting scandals (controls which became known as SOX compliance.) Despite his track record of success, when he applied for partner, his file was unaccountably “lost.” After further investigation, Ray came to believe that the move was deliberate and that he was discriminated against on the basis of his Cuban heritage.

He, therefore, left what was by then PricewaterhouseCoopers to help one of his clients, AOL, build its SOX program. AOL had gotten itself in trouble with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for financial reporting fraud. “I came in with a significant new crew of experts to reform the company,” Ray says frankly.

After AOL, he was recruited to Fannie Mae, again assigned to implement internal controls due to financial reporting errors and misstatements of its own making. All these experiences combined to give Ray a reputation as the guy you call when internal controls are broken or if your business is on fire. “I love burning buildings,” Ray quipped, because he knows how to put the fire out, and because “status quo” jobs are boring.

They nevertheless do take a toll, and by 2010 Ray was experiencing his own form of burn-out, when he took an opportunity to build a risk management practice with a growing and successful consultancy in Northern Virginia, Infinitive. Within five years, Infinitive Insight made the Inc. 5000 list. Ray reflected, “The success that got us to the Inc. 5000 list was not sustainable to keep us there.”  When the risk practice started to have some unforeseen challenges, Ray decided it was time to close the business and do a reset.

During his time off, Ray started an equestrian business and an Airbnb with his wife.  However, with his passion for risk management, and his father’s voice nagging him, he and his wife came up with the idea for Vertex11.  Vertex11 would be the company that would bring solutions to problems, creativity to challenges, and good people to great work opportunities.  “We help organizations improve the way they do cybersecurity and technology risk management so they can achieve their strategic objectives,” he explains. But, beyond that, Ray also determined that this time, he would build a firm that was “all about leaving everything better than the way we found it.” And by this, Ray doesn’t just mean his clients’ internal control foundations, but also in its ability to make a difference in their community.

Corporate culture now refers to this as ESG – the extent to which a company is capitalizing on all the non-financial risks and opportunities related to the environment, social welfare and governance in a responsible manner. It’s about not just how a business can grow and make money, but make the world a better place.

And that’s where we come back to heart. Internally, Vertex11 wanted to become a role model for the companies it consulted, so it began by supporting Manta Ray conservation – which explains why there’s a Manta Ray in the company’s logo. It began investing in non-profits it believed could create a lasting difference in society through their work. These included Richmond Cycling Corps which helps inner-city youth with cycling and tutoring (richmondcyclingcorps.org) and SailAhead.org in Huntington Station, New York, which takes veterans sailing as therapy for PTSD. Because his wife is Greek, he attends a Greek Orthodox church, serves on the audit committee of the Archdiocese and participates in mission trips where his church helps orphanages in Mexico and Guatemala

Locally, Ray also has been moved to support Loudoun Cares, in part because he knows what it’s like to be supporting a young family living paycheck to paycheck. “I’ve seen my mom pay for groceries with food stamps. So, I support an organization that makes sure people don’t fall through the cracks in the richest county in America.”

“And maybe, too, it’s because of all those homeless people I met over lunch with my father, right?” he laughs.

Ray follows a different model in raising his son Nick. Nick is the company’s CMO and together with his father in May, they invited many of those friends he made along the way to a barn party to introduce them to Loudoun Cares. Their goal: to raise awareness for all that needs doing to bridge the gaps impacting their needier neighbors. Growing and giving: all part of building a successful company and a successful life. 

Building growth companies is “all about leaving everything better than the way we found it.” Ray Vazquez

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