From college dropout to 2022 Wright State Alumnus of the Year, Richard J. Kaiser has taken a circuitous path to achieving success.
Kaiser was honored by the Wright State Alumni Association in October and struck a rather unassuming chord with regard to his receipt of the Alumnus of the Year Award.
“I was humbled to be nominated, let alone win,” he said. “There are so many amazing people who come out of Wright State University that I felt undeserving.”
Kaiser is the founder of Wilderness Agency, a hybrid marketing firm that provides branding, digital marketing, videography, development, public relations and sales integration services to more than 100 organizations, from emerging businesses to Fortune 500 companies. The agency’s focus has been on manufacturing, health care, education and government sectors, helping to identify opportunities to invest in marketing to help organizations augment and flourish.
In 2020, Wilderness Agency was recognized by the Dayton Business Journal as a Business of the Year and included the agency on its Fast 50 in 2019 and 2020. Kaiser received the 2020 Spark Award from the Better Business Bureau for excellence in community, culture and character.
“A decade after I graduated, my company was named the fastest-growing company in Dayton by the same newspaper I interned years earlier,” he said. “I’ve received awards that were made at the factory where my dad and I worked.”
At the age of 8, the entrepreneurial Kaiser began doing odd jobs at the factory where his father worked so that he could buy the stuff cherished by a typical kid his age. By the time he turned 16, Kaiser transitioned to working in restaurants, first as a dishwasher and then, ultimately, as manager.
In the meantime, he matriculated at Wright State University–Lake Campus but later stopped going because he saw two paths for his future: purchasing a restaurant or hitting the big time with the punk rock band of which he was a member.
Upon further contemplation, he opted to return to Wright State, earning an associate degree in business from the Lake Campus in 2008 and then a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the Raj Soin College of Business in 2010.
In a speech he delivered the night he received his Alumnus of the Year Award, Kaiser said, “Thank you Wright State University for taking me back after our little break-up in my early 20s. I’m proud to be an alumnus. I am grateful for the opportunities post-graduation to be able to give my time and talents back to the students and the university.”
Kaiser returned to Wright State thinking he wanted to work in sales and left realizing that he could use his talents to help companies grow and attract the right talent. A professor recommended he read a book on advertising and after voraciously doing so, his path was clear.
“The qualities and traits to start a business in my perspective are compassion and tenacity,” Kaiser said. “Running a business is simply working with people. As a leader you have a vision and you are trying to attract the talent who will be inspired and help you achieve.”
Both Wright State and the Boy Scouts of America have impacted Kaiser’s life significantly and he actively gives back to each.
He mentors Wright State business students through the Emerging Marketing Leaders Program offered by the Raj Soin College of Business. Additionally, he serves as the vice president of marketing for the Miami Valley Boy Scouts Board of Directors.
Kaiser cautions those thinking about entering the entrepreneurial world to do so for the right reasons and be absolutely certain that is what they want to do as their vocation.
“I usually tell them not to, enjoy your life,” he said. “People who start businesses are insane. They are willing to work 80-hour weeks so they don’t have to work 40 for someone else. They take all of that time, all of their money and bet it on something with a 10 percent chance of success. But if for some reason you can’t stop yourself from trying, then make sure you know your ‘why.’ Because on the 14th week of working 14-hour days, while all of your friends are at the bar hanging out and having fun, money won’t be enough to keep you going. You need to have a higher purpose than that.”