mqdefaultGraham Weston, co-founder and chairman of Rackspace Hosting, grew up in the greater San Antonio area.
At his first job, he worked in his dad’s cookie plant balancing the books from delivery drivers and occasionally packaging cookies. His dad owned Grandma’s Cookies and later sold the company to Frito Lay.
Weston’s first venture into entrepreneurship in grade school involved selling organic pork from his family’s ranch through advertisements proclaiming “Go Hog Wild” in the local newspaper. He also ran a photography business in high school.
In college, he would drive back and forth from Texas A&M in his VW Diesel Rabbit listening to get rich quick tapes in his cassette player.
His junior year at Texas A&M, Weston launched a successful real estate venture while going through college. He successfully protested his family’s property tax appraisal and then figured that there might be a business doing that for others. He founded a company that protested commercial property taxes.
Because of his property tax business, Weston was well positioned to see opportunities in real estate during the financial crisis of the late 1980s.
After school, Weston ended up buying one of the tallest buildings in downtown San Antonio, later named the Weston Centre at the age of 27. The building had fallen into foreclosure and then bankruptcy during the Savings and Loan Crisis of the late 1980s. He wanted to buy the KCI Tower, but wasn’t able to do it. Later the former National Bank of Commerce building came open. It was way more than Weston wanted to spend. But he raised more money and then bid against real estate mogul Sam Zell and won.
The Weston Centre later contained one of the first data centers for Rackspace. It housed some of the first websites on the Internet for YouTube and HotorNot and other Internet pioneers.
Rackspace, now a multi-billion dollar company, had a humble beginning.
Weston and his partner, Morris Miller, met three college students who bid to wire the Weston Centre with high-speed Internet access. The students didn’t get the contract, but Weston and Miller liked them. They asked them what else they were working on. That’s when Pat Condon, Dirk Elmendorf and Richard Yoo told them about their hosting business, which would later come to be known as Rackspace.
Weston recounted how they invested $1 million and in less than a year another company wanted to buy the business for $20 million. That deal fell through. But they knew they had a solid business, which was making money every month. They grew Rackspace by adding more servers and data centers and in 2001 they planned to take the company public, but the dot com bust occurred. They went through a few tough years, but they were able to persevere and succeed where many failed largely through Rackspace’s focus on providing “fanatical” customer support.
In 2008, Rackspace went public at $12 a share. Its stock closed Wednesday at $37 a share. The company has a market capitalization of more than $5 billion.
Today, Rackspace has more than 5,000 employees worldwide and is San Antonio’s largest high-tech employer with close to 3,000 employees in Central Texas. Rackspace also has an Austin office.