Ron Simon, a first-generation American, was born in Los Angeles in 1934. His mother and grandparents had emigrated from Russia in 1923 with $20 in their pockets. His father—born in England and raised in a fatherless home in Canada—came to the United States in 1924 at the age of 17. Simon’s parents worked in a sheet metal factory, where his father was the plant manager and his mother was a secretary. At the time of his birth, Simon, his parents, and his grandparents all shared an East Los Angeles duplex. Five years later, they moved to a small house; a younger brother later died from a brain tumor.
At age 9, Simon had a paper route; when he was 15, his father started his own business manufacturing steel medicine cabinets. Simon’s grandfather had a retail luggage store; both employed Simon. “I worked one whole summer for my father and earned only $20 because that was all he could afford to pay me,” he says, “but that was okay because it felt great just to be able to contribute to the startup of his business. I also spent several school vacations working in my grandfather’s shop. He taught me the basic rules of business and how to sell and negotiate.” During his teenage years, Simon embraced a strong work ethic. When he wasn’t working for his father or grandfather, he spent every school vacation and break delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service and clerking in department stores.
Simon’s ultimate dream was to have his own business. Eager to be on his own and free to make his way in the world, he viewed school as something he had to endure. Getting an education was important to his parents, and they expected him to go to college. Simon attended Los Angeles City College, where he earned a two-year degree in engineering. He worked 30 hours a week as a draftsman throughout that time. When an opportunity to join Layne Bowler Pump Company, Inc. as a junior engineer came along, he decided to take it.
After five years at Layne Bowler, Simon joined his father’s business, Perma-Bilt Industries. Under Simon’s leadership, it grew to become the nation’s largest manufacturer of bathroom medicine cabinets. In 1987, Simon sold Perma-Bilt and started RSI Home Products, Inc., which became the largest manufacturer of cultured marble countertops, bathroom vanities, and medicine cabinets in the world.
Simon stresses the importance of integrity. “My word is my most cherished possession. When I tell someone I’m going to do something, I do it. I don’t define success by how much money I have. For me, success is how respected you are by your family, friends, and business associates.”