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Alum of the Month: Ralph Clark ’76
Ralph A. Clark is President and Chief Executive Officer at ShotSpotter, the world’s only wide-area acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance solution, which is deployed and used to combat gun violence in over 90 cities.
From 1972-1976, Ralph Clark commuted to St. Joseph’s High School from Oakland, near the San Leandro border. A self-described “quiet kid,” he played JV basketball and baseball, but additional activities were difficult to fit into his commute to and from school. He recalls high school being an interesting and complex time in the mid-late 70s, but remembers having a good time at St. Joe’s with a cohesive class of young men.
After graduation, Ralph enrolled at the University of the Pacific, where he started out as a pre-med/pre-dental major with a course load full of science and math. But during the winter term of his freshman year, he found a passion for philosophy from classes about the Odyssey and Good and Evil. “I think the reading we did at St. Joe’s really prepared me for a love of philosophy,” he said. “I excelled in that.”
After taking a Philosophical Economics course, he ended up pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Economics with a lot of philosophy courses in the mix. Ralph considered law school after graduating from UOP, and took the LSAT. But since he had put himself through school financially, he decided to take a job at IBM and work for a couple years first. At IBM, the company occasionally hosted thought-provoking Presidents’ Classes taught by professors from Harvard Business School. So Ralph decided to apply to Harvard Business School, just to see if he would get in. His initiative paid off and he says he was “lucky enough to be accepted there!”
Ralph’s first post-M.B.A. job was working with many public offerings and acquisitions as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs. He advised successful tech companies in their transactions and took an interest in how different founders were doing exciting things with technology, and growing quickly in the fertile startup environment.
Ralph was working as the CEO of GuardianEdge Technologies (later acquired by Symantec) when he received a call from a company called ShotSpotter. ShotSpotter is a gunshot detection technology company which delivers instant data to police, helping them to respond more quickly and safely. He was intrigued with the company and spent six months meeting with employees, and thinking about how to pursue markets in a new way. He accepted the CEO position at ShotSpotter six years ago, and has had a big influence on improving their operating systems leading to increased success. While the company’s success is indeed gratifying, “we also know we’re making an impact making challenged and underserved communities safer,” says Ralph, “which is quite rewarding.”
Through his leadership at ShotSpotter, Ralph has learned a lot about urban violence, and is motivated by seeing his company’s technology improve response rates. He feels honored to be part of significant thought-leadership in that space, and enjoys the opportunity to meet a lot of people and officials around the world. He recently returned from a trip meeting with the London police leadership team. He recalls a specific memory from a trip to South Africa. There had been a poaching event in Kruger National park, and the park rangers asked Ralph if he wanted to go in with them and retrieve a baby rhino that was left starving to death. “To be involved with their operation, deep in this park in Africa, with armed park rangers, and then to see the rhino and this helicopter come...that’s just not something you experience at a regular job!” he says. He is excited that his company is expanding its footprint to help more people globally.
Outside of ShotSpotter, Ralph considers himself blessed to have a wonderful wife and partner, and four children who are happy and healthy. He is active in nonprofit work, consulting with small businesses through Pacific Community Ventures where he is Chairman of the Board. He also helps on an advisory basis with the Oakland Museum and the Oakland Boys and Girls Club, which are both very important to him. “I’m a big Oakland fan – all things Oakland. I was born and raised here, spent some time in Seattle and New York City, but I knew I would come back and settle in Oakland.”
As Ralph reflects on his educational and career accomplishments and pivots throughout his life thus far, he acknowledges how the critical thinking and reading skills that he developed at St. Joseph’s stuck with him. “Although I wasn't always paying as much attention in class as I should have, it really did help me.” He enjoys staying in touch with St. Joe’s classmates Jim Kelly ’76, Michael Murray ’76 and Paul Stier ’76 and reconnecting with even more people now through Facebook.
“It’s been a happy life and I’ve met interesting people along the way.”