UT Knoxville, ’64
When Hawaiian Tropic founder Ron Rice arrived at UT, he planned on being a teacher.
After graduating, he landed a job as a high school chemistry teacher and football coach in Florida. As he had while a student, he continued lifeguarding in the summer to supplement his salary.
But Rice had always been an entrepreneur. As a child on a family-owned farm in North Carolina, he sold apples,grapes, nuts, honey, apple cider and Christmas wreaths to help his family’s finances.
Years later on vacation in Hawaii, the sun-loving—but fair-skinned—entrepreneur noticed locals used a blend ofnatural products to protect their skin while tanning.
Back at home, he borrowed $500 from his dad and worked to concoct his own natural suntan oil. Once he foundthe right formula, he peddled it at pools and lifeguard stands until, eventually, Hawaiian Tropic caught on.
“We sponsored everything you could think of,” he said once in an interview. “We were in NASCAR racing for 10years, and Paul Newman drove the winning Hawaiian Tropic Porsche at the 24 Hours of LeMans in France.”
By 2006, Hawaiian Tropic was the second-largest sun-care company in the world, with sales topping $110 million.The next year, Rice sold the company to Playtex Products Inc. in a deal worth about $160 million.
“The happiest day of my life was when I was able to pay my father back the $500 he loaned me and thank him forbelieving in me.”
Rice recently launched a new sun-care product—Havana Sun—inspired by the re-opening of Cuba and thepeople there.
In 2014, UT Knoxville presented Rice with an Accomplished Alumni award.
Part of the Tennessee Alumnus‘ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.