Former Regents chair establishes WSU fellowship
Clay Blair met Gene Zaid when Blair chaired the Kansas Bioscience Authority, which selected Zaid’s company to receive a grant to help develop his business and improve Kansas economic development.
Blair, a real estate developer in Johnson County and owner of Clay Blair Services Corp., said he had always been impressed by Zaid’s personal story and the business acumen that catapulted him to great success.
“Wichita and Wichita State have a rich heritage of spawning entrepreneurial success stories,” Blair says. “Gene Zaid is another great example — a proven rags-to-riches success story and a fine gentleman.”
“I was absolutely pleased — elated,” Zaid says. “I don’t have the words to describe it. He (Blair) said, ‘I know that you went to Wichita State and I want to do something there in your name.’ It was his request that I decide how it should be done.”
Zaid, who earned his master’s degree in chemistry from WSU in 1977, chose to establish a graduate fellowship in the chemistry department. The first award will be made this fall.
“As a former Kansas Board of Regents chairman, Clay understands the necessity of private support to state universities,” said Elizabeth King, WSU Foundation president and CEO. “Clay has a heart to serve, and this gift is a key example.”
From refugee to successful entrepreneur
Born in a Palestinian refugee camp in the disputed West Bank territory, Zaid managed to save enough money to come to the United States at the age of 17 to attend college through a foreign outreach educational program. He earned an undergraduate degree at Kansas Wesleyan, then a master’s degree from Wichita State. He received a doctorate in California.
In 1982, Zaid started his own company called JACAM Chemical based in Sterling, Kan. Today, it employs about 410 people in 10 states and is a multi-million dollar enterprise. JACAM manufactures and distributes oilfield-related specialty chemicals throughout the world. In March 2013, Canadian Energy Services & Technology Corporation purchased JACAM for $240 million. Zaid remains as CEO for the JACAM business unit.
After graduating from Kansas Wesleyan with a bachelor’s degree, Zaid looked at several Kansas universities from which to get his master’s.
“I chose Wichita State because they gave me $50 more than KU and K-State for a teaching assistantship,” he says. “That was important to me. That’s one reason why I want this money to go to a graduate assistant, so they can go to Wichita State and pursue their dreams like I did.”