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Ralph Rathburn: ” If there is a problem, don’t waste time whining about it. Find a way to go over, under, around or through it”

Airgle, the company where I work, makes air purification products for places where physical distancing is impossible, such as businesses, schools, clinics, etc. Physical distancing removes people from where the virus is and it is an important tool to combat COVID. But, physical distancing alone isn’t enough. As we move forward and navigate through a COVID […]

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Airgle, the company where I work, makes air purification products for places where physical distancing is impossible, such as businesses, schools, clinics, etc. Physical distancing removes people from where the virus is and it is an important tool to combat COVID. But, physical distancing alone isn’t enough.

As we move forward and navigate through a COVID world, more needs to be done to return to some type of normalcy. At Airgle, we offer Mechanical Distancing™, which removes the virus from where people are. We want to make pure air as easy and accessible as possible. And we are doing just that.


As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ralph Rathburn, Vice President of Airgle. Rathburn has more than three decades of experience that touches on international business, sales, consumer products and beyond. Most recently, Rathburn has been leading the way in air quality education through his position at Airgle, and was a recent key speaker at the National Association of County and City Health Officials annual conference, educating attendees on mitigating airborne transmission.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I spent the last 30 years bringing live entertainment and consumer products to Japan, 27 of which I spent living in Japan. Early in my sojourn in Japan I heard Americans say Japanese people lacked common sense and heard similar sentiments from Japanese people which led me to really understand that common sense is not common. Understanding this and other aspects of intercultural differences has helped me be successful in both the live entertainment business and the consumer product business. It has also allowed me to help others be successful in their own businesses. My main focus for three decades has been helping people from different cultures work effectively together as well as helping companies sell products internationally.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Two and a half years ago, a Korean businessman introduced me to an American company that manufactured their product in China in the hope that I would offer their product to my customers in Japan. Having sold a high-end air purification products before, I was impressed with the technology of that new product. It had cutting-edge filtration technology, cutting-edge photocatalytic oxidization technology, and an unusually robust application of odor and VOC reduction technology. Japan is the most advanced market on earth for air purification products. America, on the other hand, really has not been much of a market for air purification. But, in 2019, after Ihad moved back to the USA, I was able to convince the owner of that American company, Airgle Corporation, which until then had mostly sold its products in other parts of the world, to hire me as VP North America to try to get Americans interested in indoor air quality the way Japanese people are. Nine months later, the worst airborne disease pandemic in 100 years hit and Americans started to really want to hear what I had to say about how they can remove viruses from the air and get pure air to breathe.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

My mother was an old-style newspaper editor. So, I was raised to honestly tell people the facts and let them decide how to move forward. For a time, I was working at a place where that was not the way things were done. That was really hard for me. When I left that job, I decided that I would never again work with a product that depended on fooling people to get them to buy. So, I am very happy with my work right now because the owner of Airgle feels the same way that I do — make great products, tell people the truth about them and let them decide.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Airgle, the company where I work, makes air purification products for places where physical distancing is impossible, such as businesses, schools, clinics, etc. Physical distancing removes people from where the virus is and it is an important tool to combat COVID. But, physical distancing alone isn’t enough.

As we move forward and navigate through a COVID world, more needs to be done to return to some type of normalcy. At Airgle, we offer Mechanical Distancing™, which removes the virus from where people are. We want to make pure air as easy and accessible as possible. And we are doing just that.

This is supported by new testing data results for the AG900 clean room air purifier, revealing up to 99.999% reduction in airborne virus (the viral microphage used in the test is much smaller even than the SARS-CoV-2 virus).

In California, where I live, air cleaning technologies make a huge difference in dealing with the smoke from all the wildfires. While less than 5% of smoke particles are larger than 0.3 microns (the size above which HEPA filters are best at capturing), our cHEPA filter captures 99.999% of particles down to 0.003 microns — meaning we capture virtually all smoke particles including the more than 95% that may pass through a regular filter. Our Gas & Odor filter removes the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the smoke out of the air. And our Titanium Pro® module sends out the same hydroxyl radicals that fire remediation companies use to remove the smell of fire and smoke damage.

With these technologies, we are making it possible to create clean environments for people to enjoy, which will be important well beyond this pandemic’s lifespan.

How do you think this will change the world?

The current pandemic will forever change the world. People will be more mindful and aware of air quality in regards to their own health. The leading-edge combined with tried-and-true technology that is in our products provides Mechanical Distancing™ and will allow businesses, resorts, and retailers to remove 99.999% of viruses, bacteria, and nanoparticles from the air to actively provide clean air for themselves and their customers. Organizations can take an active role in ensuring the health and wellness of their employees and customers- they can set the new standards for caring and for good human resource management.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

This is a really difficult question. The activated carbon we use is made from renewable coconut shells and the machine and the filter frames are made from aluminum which is one of the most recyclable materials in use. So, I can’t think of anything hugely Black Mirror episode worthy that would come of that. I can see pharmaceutical companies becoming angry with us if there were widespread adoption because breathing truly pure air can lead to reduced need for allergy and asthma medications.

Additionally, if enough places deployed our units so that Mechanical Distancing™ became the norm, people might forget to be as careful about physical distancing in places where no Airgle products were being used. So, while our air purification products are a huge leap into the future of health, people will still need to be accountable for wearing masks, washing their hands, and doing all the other things necessary to reduce transmission.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

This is not a question which I can answer because this Mechanical DistancingTM concept was created by Airgle prior to my joining the company. However, I can say that I was in awe and agreement with the idea the moment I was introduced to it.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

If businesses, resorts, retailers, and large corporations in general decide to start taking an active role in providing healthy environments for their workers and customers and if schools decide to reduce cross-infection of airborne illnesses among their students, our products will fly out of our warehouse because, with our unique technology, our products can be a critical element in helping to accomplish that.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

I probably have more things that, “I am glad someone told me,” than, “I wish someone had told me.”

· I am glad my newspaper editor mother raised me to understand that ‘life is not fair.’ Just that one thing has saved me from the tremendous stress and anxiety that so many other people experience and saved the time wasted in complaining about ‘fairness’ rather than looking for a solution.

· A second thing that I was raised to believe is, if there is a problem, don’t waste time whining about it. Find a way to go over, under, around or through it.

· A third thing I was taught is to surround yourself with people who are smarter and better than you are and make sure to give them credit where credit is due. That engenders loyalty and a collaborative spirit and really good managers look for people who can get synergy from teams.

· A fourth thing my mother taught me about management is that when you find that someone has ‘risen to the level of their incompetence’(the Peter Principle) rather than throw away that once valuable resource, find a way to return them to the level of their highest competence.

· The fifth thing is something my dad told me when I got my first job, “Show up early and stay late. Work efficiently and effectively in between.”

· I do wish someone had told me that saving your boss from himself is not your job and will just get you fired! An experience I twice had.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

As someone who has been selling for 30 years, I have come to believe that if you can’t tell the honest truth about your product to a potential consumer, fix the product or find a new one. Or move to a different company whose products you can tell the honest truth about.

Another mindset that I have found to be successful is that people like being around and helping pleasant people. Or, as my mother used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” This is true in sales as well as in management.

The final is similar to what I mentioned above: If you hire people who are more talented than you and provide them with the tools and support to be successful, you will be successful.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Most companies in which VCs invest have a high ratio of critical employees. Those employees are likely to benefit from face-to-face interactions to accomplish the company’s goals. Providing pure air improves the quality of the work environment, which reduces sick days, increases productivity, and in turn increases the value of the company. Airgle products are critical for that to happen. Airgle air purification machines are not cheap, but they will provide the purest air possible to enable the workers in the companies in which you invest to grow the value of those investments.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ralphrathburn/.

You can also follow my company, Airgle, on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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