Randy Welsch enjoys a challenge.
Welsch, who grew up in Hollidaysburg, has been a pastor, a professor and a leader in the technology field but today he is engrossed in what he calls his biggest challenge - running a company called Jibu.
Founded by Welsch and his son, Galen, in 2012, Jibu is trying to provide safe drinking water to developing world countries by using a unique micro-franchise development approach.
Randy Welsch (left), a 1974 graduate of Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, and his son, Galen (right), meet with workers at a water filtration machine in Rawanda in July 2013.
"Jibu's goal is to create a self-propagating network of businesses in the developing world where locally generated organic profit funds future growth rather than western donations," Welsch said.
The company recently launched four new water businesses in East Africa.
"Jibu harnesses the power of both charitable and for-profit approaches in its hybrid business model designed to ensure every person on the planet has permanent access to safe, affordable water," Welsch said. "We are a low-profit organization that is pioneering a new development approach called micro-franchising. Using best practice business concepts, capital and talent, we are partnering with local entrepreneurs to create a network of businesses that create access to safe water and stimulate local economies. So far it has been pretty amazing."
If the water project works, it will be his greatest accomplishment, Welsch said.
Welsch, 58, was born in DuBois and moved to Hollidaysburg at the age of 8.
While in junior high, he broke his neck.
"I was in ninth grade," Welsch said.
"I was waiting for basketball practice. I took a stupid bet and dove into a snow bank and broke my neck. When I meet people from Hollidaysburg, they say 'How is your neck.' I was well known throughout the community."
As a youngster, Welsch said he thought about becoming a doctor.
"That [broken neck] made me appreciate the medical profession," Welsch said.
After graduating from Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School in 1974, Welsch moved on to Bucknell University where he graduated with a degree in English and education - a double major - in 1978.
After graduating from Bucknell, he stayed in Lewisburg and became a Methodist pastor. While there, he started a church which grew to be one of the largest churches in the area.
Welsch then decided to return to school and obtained a master's degree in instructional technology from Bloomsburg University.
While at Bloomsburg, he met a professor who had connections with the Air Force Academy who helped him get a job as an instructor and a consultant.
"I ended up being an English professor at the Air Force Academy. I helped pioneer the concept of chat rooms on the nascent Internet at the time," Welsch said.
Welsch said his time at the academy and in Colorado Springs was very rewarding.
"I got drawn into the Internet boom. Colorado Springs was a hot spot for it. I was an entrepreneur in the high-tech industry," Welsch said. "I think being on the leading edge of the Internet boom and dot com boom was very significant. It was fun to be a part of that and to be part of that in a small way."
Welsch became a leader at Digital Equipment Corp. - now Hewlett Packard - in the mid-1990s. Among other things, he was involved in the design of Alta Vista, the leading search engine of the time before Google came on the scene in the late 1990s.
He also launched a new internet-based training business - Horizon Interactive - in the 1990s that became one of the most significant of its kind. He also launched a software business to serve the space industry - Master Solutions - in the late 1990s, his main customer was the United States government.
Welsch served as CEO of Master Solutions from infancy to several million dollars in annualized revenue. During this time, the company grew from about four employees to between 50 and 100. The company sold about four years ago to a much larger provider of governmental software services, said David Kennedy, president of Noteworthy Financial Inc. in Colorado Springs, who was on the board of directors from inception to sale.
"Randy has exceptional organizational and entrepreneurial skills. It always amazed me how Randy could highly motivate all of the people within the organization, from administrative assistants to software engineers at the highest level. And motivating the latter is akin to herding cats," Kennedy said.
Welsch has been in Colorado Springs since 1993 and has played a key role in the community, said Larry Yonker, president and CEO of Springs Rescue Mission.
"Randy has made a tremendous impact in so many ways. He has voluntarily served on local county committees and as an elder in our church. During a difficult transition, Randy provided mature leadership and provided solid wisdom," Yonker said. "As a businessman, he has provided employment for hundreds of professionals, and as a citizen, he has given sacrificially to many local charities."
Welsch is more proud of how he has done things than about what he has done.
"I've done things right with honesty and put my heart into it. One of my mottos is 'I want to see my fruit grow on other people's trees,'" Welsch said. "I am most proud of the number of people I've been able to help and be successful themselves. I see myself as a developer of other people and an enabler of other people's success."
Welsch said his many roles have enabled him to travel the world and visit more than 60 countries.
"I was a guy who hadn't traveled west of Ohio when growing up," Welsch said.
New Zealand is his favorite destination.
"There is everything there. I like New Zealand because of the diversity of the people and climate," Welsch said.
Welsch said he enjoyed growing up in Hollidaysburg.
"I feel like I had a golden childhood. I had great friends. We played sports. We complained there was nothing to do, but we had so much fun. I felt Hollidaysburg was the perfect small town America," Welsch said.
Welsch said he gets home once or twice a year and admits he misses the area.
"The Meadows is the first stop I make when I come home," Welsch said.
Welsch stays in touch with some of his high school classmates who said they are not surprised by his success.
"Randy was a close friend and always a cool guy to hang with," said John Hillkirk, former editor at USA Today. "Very smart, funny, a good athlete, got along with everyone. You could tell even at a young age he was destined for great things no matter what he chose to do with his life. It doesn't surprise one bit that he's accomplished so much and done so many wonderful things, so generously, for other people."
David Gildea and Welsch played baseball together while growing up.
"I always thought Randy thought more deeply about things than most kids that age," said Gildea, associate director of marketing and recruitment in undergraduate admissions at Penn State. "We had conversations of the future, service and helping others. What he is experiencing in his life was solidified back then. I came to the conclusion he would become a leader."
Welsch also stays in touch with Tom Mock, Wal-Mart Regional Director for Sales - East Area at Nabisco/Cadbury in Harrisburg.
"He was just one of the guys, very down to earth," Mock said. "You knew he was very intelligent and he would end up doing big things. We played basketball together at Hollidaysburg and would walk home together along the "Ho Chi Minh" trail, and we would have some good conversations about life. I am not surprised by his success."
Welsch said he has no plans to retire.
"My wife says I will never retire, and that is true. I have no plans as long as my health holds out," Welsch said. "I plan to serve and help, use my gifts and talents to help make the world a better place."