April 6, 2015
Vic Keller didn't have a lot of free time as a student at Texas Tech University.
When he wasn't roaming the campus or in class during the 1990s, he was working full-time waiting tables, 40 to 50 hours per week he estimates, involved with Young Life Leadership or participating in one of several extracurricular activities within the business college, now known as the Rawls College of Business.
Through it all, however, Keller focused on laying the foundation for a successful future.
“What I did at Texas Tech was I sought out relationships with all my professors,” Keller said. “Texas Tech did a great job aligning taught business practices and principles with real life businesses. By the time I left I had that exposure and understanding all about those applications.
“One of the things I really took note of at Texas Tech was there's not a lot of room to be successful and be indecisive at the same time.”
It is that ability to build relationships, both internally and externally, and drive to succeed has made Keller an extremely successful business executive, taking a fledgling automotive performance company, ZAK Products, and turning it into a multi-million dollar entity recently acquired by Berkshire Hathaway.
“For our staff and our customers, Berkshire Hathaway's acquisition solidifies the ZAK brand and the company's future will be bright,” Keller said.
It's that business acumen and looking toward the future that Keller believes will help make the company even more successful. His life's travails and success will be on display, somewhat, the weekend of April 10-12 as Keller donated ZAK Products' sponsorship of a Sprint Cup car to Texas Tech for the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Keller knew pretty early in life what he wanted to do. He wanted to be an entrepreneur and business builder.
To that end, in high school, he contacted national chain franchises attempting, albeit unsuccessfully, to acquire a franchise. He also contacted several major automotive manufacturers such as Honda, Chevrolet, Ford and Nissan asking for information on opening a dealership.
Keller is a 1996 graduate of the Rawls College of Business.
It is there that his future foray into the automotive industry took root.
“One thing I learned is that the automotive industry and dealerships are a lucrative business and community-based,” Keller said. “I love the spirit of the auto industry and it had always been something I'd been interested in.”
Upon earning his bachelor's degree in business administration at Texas Tech in 1996, Keller attended a job fair and earned interviews with three companies – New York Life, Sewell Automotive dealerships and Chase Manhattan bank, which later became JP Morgan Chase. Though his interest in the automotive industry was strong, Keller chose to work for Chase Manhattan due to its reputable management training program.
“I trained with them and learned all the different areas of the bank, from investment banking to commercial banking and regulation compliance,” Keller said. “I had a great time and gained valuable experience.”
But Keller's entrepreneurial drive kept him looking for opportunities to build his own business.
“In 2002, I had the good fortune to meet Cecil and Larry Van Tuyl and propose a business idea to them -- and they became my largest customer and my business partners,” Keller said.
With the Van Tuyls' enthusiastic support, Keller founded ZAK Products. Looking for ways to separate himself from the competition and brand ZAK Products as the top professional automotive maintenance fluid manufacturer, he decided to approach NASCAR about a strategic partnership.
Keller wanted to separate ZAK Products from its competition in a big way. He wanted his products aligned with auto technicians and experts who would identify ZAK with performance and quality. What better place to do that than in the world's No. 1 spectator sport – NASCAR?
The sport at that time was enjoying unprecedented success and exposure. Keller wanted ZAK Products to be a part of that, but it wasn't easy.
“I sought out NASCAR to talk to them about ZAK Products becoming a NASCAR-aligned company,” Keller said. “They explained to me that Coca-Cola, Exxon Mobil and Mars, those were the companies they partner with, multi-billion dollar companies.”
Just like throughout high school and Texas Tech, however, Keller persisted. It was a tough sell, but he eventually convinced NASCAR to sign a strategic partnership.
Now, almost every NASCAR team uses ZAK Products. Today, ZAK Products is considered
an official partner of NASCAR alongside several Fortune 100 companies.
“It hasn't changed anything we've done, but it has given us unbelievable credibility in the marketplace,” Keller said. “It has changed our identity. It's given us the greatest research and development partners you could have. I can call any team at any time and get feedback on our products.”
Keller's constant eye toward the future, seeking what is next in the business, has helped set ZAK Products apart from the rest, from 2002 all the way to today. That epitome of that vision toward the future will be on display this weekend at 200 mph.
Seeing the No. 32 car from the Go Green Racing Team driven by Mike Bliss on the track at Texas Motor Speedway, adorned in red and black, with the Double-T logo, brings together a life's work, not only within the business community, but in life in general. Keller met his wife, Alesha, at Texas Tech while she was in nursing school. He's also been able to share these experiences with his two sons, Zachary and Cameron.
“It's really the culmination of me getting to see, ultimately, the talents and education gained at Texas Tech come together with the industry and business that I'm in,” Keller said. “For me, to see Texas Tech University out there with the likenesses of DuPont, Coca-Cola, Geico and other companies is really special.”
The Rawls College of Business accounts for about 25 percent of Texas Tech graduates.
The college has a full-time teaching staff of roughly 100 in seven academic areas: accounting; energy, economics and law; finance; health organization management; information systems and quantitative sciences; management; and marketing.
The college offers an accredited weekend MBA for Working Professionals program.
Dedicated to connecting students, alumni and employers, the Career Management Center assists Rawls College students with their transition to the world-of-work, and supplies prospective employers with top-notch candidates, ready to make an immediate contribution.Twitter