Clark Turner likes to invent things. Take for example NOMAD, a portable dental x-ray machine that won a Wall Street Journal award and an Edison Award. In 2004 Turner founded the company Aribex to manufacture NOMAD. After selling Aribex in 2012, he founded Turner Innovations, a research and development company. “One of my objectives is to make sure that we’re working on innovative things, not me-too products. They have to be highly differentiated and unique,” he says.
Nestled in a nondescript building west of Interstate 15 in Orem, the company presents an unassuming front, but some pretty remarkable inventing is taking place there. The company is working on a number of projects, including a 3-D x-ray system for the National Institutes of Health and some unique, battery-powered medical units.
Among other accolades, Dr. Turner has won the Utah Innovation Award and was named Emerging Executive of the Year by the Utah Technology Council. He credits his Ph.D. in chemistry from Brigham Young University with setting him up for success. Although he hasn’t specifically used that Ph.D. in his career, he says the skill set it taught him is universally applicable — how to analyze problems, do research, report your research in peer-reviewed journals, and establish scientific credibility.
“I’m pretty passionate about education. A good solid education is the path out of poverty to improved quality of life,” says Turner. That passion for education led him to join the Utah Valley University Foundation Board. He has enjoyed seeing the evolution of the school from a technology college to a full university. “UVU has become a really good preparatory university for students who want to go on and get graduate degrees,” he says.
Turner enjoys the insider knowledge he gets at Foundation Board meetings. He says, “President Holland is a great communicator, very good at laying out a vision, explaining the vision, and keeping people focused on the primary goals. It’s one thing for two or three people to have a shared vision and goal, and it’s another to get 20 or 30 people of accomplishment all working together to achieve that goal.”
At some point the Foundation Board could get too big, but Turner doesn’t think it’s approaching that limit yet. “I would encourage adding more people of accomplishment from the community. It will bring in more good ideas from people who have different skill sets,” he says. He sees the board’s engagement with the community as one of its most important roles. More than just raising funds, board members are making connections that will broaden the University’s base for future support.
Turner was part of a group that looked into ways the Foundation might invest in student start-ups, both to support student entrepreneurship at UVU and to increase the Foundation’s endowment. He also serves on an advisory committee to BYU’s College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and is a trustee of the Utah Technology Council.
Turner met his wife, then Pamela Peterson, when they were in the marching band together at BYU. Pam stayed home to raise the couple’s kids, but now that they are older, she has started a baking business — MamaBear’s Kitchen — and sells her goodies at the Provo Farmer’s Market.
The couple has four children. Their oldest son earned a bachelor’s degree in business management at UVU before getting an M.B.A. at Notre Dame. Their second son is currently taking classes in exercise physiology at UVU while working full time. They both chose UVU because it’s a good, affordable school, and it’s close enough to their home in West Mountain, Utah, that they could easily commute.
The Turners’ third son works at Turner Innovations with his father and is considering becoming a pilot. Their youngest child, a daughter, is studying at Brigham Young University and is planning to pursue a Ph.D. in genetics and biotechnology. “I’ve tried to encourage all my kids to go into STEM areas: science, technology, engineering or math. But only my daughter has done that so far,” says Clark Turner with a smile.
Turner’s advice to the next generation? First, work hard. He subscribes to Thomas Edison’s advice: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Second, develop strong relationships, both personal and working relationships. “You can’t do it all yourself, so surround yourself with good people who are able to contribute in ways that you can’t,” he explains. “I probably could be more effective if I pushed people a little bit harder. But it’s been important to me that we have good, comfortable, working relationships.”
Third, and he says this is the key to his success, look at problems from different perspectives and come up with creative ways of solving them. As an example, he points to the NOMAD x-ray unit. “Nobody else had thought about holding an x-ray source. In fact, it was against the radiation control rules. We had to go state by state and get an exemption from the rules in order for people to use it. It was a lot of extra work, but we were able to differentiate ourselves and prevent competitors from coming in,” he says.
When he’s not inventing, Turner likes to unwind by tending to his fruit trees. He says, “One of the things I really enjoy is starting with nothing and having something that I’ve created at the end. We had a bare patch of land, and now we have 48 fruit trees. Every year we have a harvest. It’s very fulfilling to be able to reap the fruit of my labor, literally.”