PROFILE: Tech teacher (Part I)
Houston Business Journal
Paul Frison must be a very patient man.
Ever since he was hired as the founding president and CEO of the Houston Technology Center in December 1998, he has been working to move HTC into a permanent home. HTC needs a facility to fulfill its primary purpose of providing computer training to minorities and serving as an incubator for start-up technology companies.
The ultimate selection and renovation of HTC”s proposed building – which is being funded by a government grant – has been slowed down by red tape.
But after much work and perseverance by the many individuals and entities involved, HTC”s building, located at 410 Pierce in Midtown, is scheduled to open its doors in July. HTC had been officing on the 29th floor of Two Allen Center, but its lease was up at the end of December because the new building was supposed to be ready by then. When it wasn”t, HTC employees were forced to move into office space in the same building provided at no cost by Regis, a company that specializes in leasing short-term office space.
Getting its permanent facility ready took about three and a half years, start to finish, but it might have taken even longer had Frison not been involved.
“Paul is a driver,” says Robert Litke, director of the Planning and Development Department for the city of Houston. “He”s made a lot of things happen. This guy”s a master at it.”
The diplomatic and politically correct CEO begrudgingly admits that he was frustrated by the delays. He says it”s been difficult having an uncertain move-in date because he”s usually very organized.
“He gets frustrated with the process, and I can”t say I blame him,” says Litke, who applied for the original grant for HTC and was instrumental in its creation. “I live with frustration. How can a bureaucrat get frustrated by bureaucracy?”
Frison, however, hails from the private sector. Operating in the nonprofit sector and relying on government timetables was a whole new ballgame for him.
Prior to joining HTC, Frison was chairman, president and CEO of LifeCell Corp., a public company that relocated from The Woodlands to New Jersey in 1999. LifeCell was one of the first local biotech success stories. The firm commercialized a product called AlloDerm, which is a replacement tissue used in reconstructive plastic surgery, dental procedures and in the treatment of burn victims.
Because of Frison”s corporate background, Litke says he wasn”t sold on hiring him as HTC”s CEO. That is, until he met him.
“Paul had everything that made me say, ”This is the right guy for the job,” ” Litke recalls. “Paul is bouncy. He”s got a tremendous amount of energy. He builds partnerships all over the place, and then delivers on those partnerships. ”
Frison spoke with HTC organizers off and on for eight months before accepting the position. Litke eventually helped convince Frison to take the job.
“I had my doubts whether this thing would really work,” says Frison, who turned 65 a month ago.
Billy Ladin, an HTC advisory board member, is thankful Frison decided to lead the organization.
“He has done a wonderful job for our city,” says Ladin, a longtime friend and former boss of Frison”s. “He certainly could make a lot more money doing something else as an executive.”
Frison is a native of Glendale, Calif. He met Barbara, his wife of 44 years, when they were both auditioning for a high school play. In fact, Frison used to do quite a bit of acting, including co-starring in a children”s television show, various commercials and several movies.
Those experiences helped make him the good public speaker he is today.
After high school, Frison went on to earn a bachelor of arts degree in education with a minor in business from Occidental College in Los Angeles. Immediately out of school, Frison taught sixth grade in South Central L.A. for a year. At one time, his goal was to become superintendent of public instruction for the State of California.
Instead of being drafted into the armed forces, Frison decided to enroll in the Coast Guard”s officer candidate school. He spent a full year aboard a ship in the San Francisco Bay performing sea rescues and tracking weather systems.
As an officer in the Coast Guard, Frison was an admiral”s aide in San Francisco. He was the head of communications, responsible for handling public relations.
Frison handled all the PR in 1960 when Nikita Khrushchev, premier of what was then the U.S.S.R., toured the San Francisco Bay on his ship. Frison orchestrated press inquires from such national publications as Life and Look magazines during Khrushchev”s trip to the United States at the height of the Cold War.
On a lighter note, he also got to meet movie stars Debbie Reynolds and Fred Astaire when he was asked to arrange access to the admiral”s house for a movie they were shooting.