Tom Frana, 66, has both St. John’s College and Marine Corps veteran on his résumé. I would admire him if he just made it through Marine boot camp (I nearly washed out of college orientation), but Frana ended up in the Vietnam jungle cradling an M16 rifle and dodging mortar fire.
Now, he is the president and largest shareholder of Vion, a Washington area computer technology company with nearly $200 million in revenue. Vion sells computer technology to the federal, state and local governments. It earns around $10 million a year in profit.
The best part of writing this column is asking entrepreneurs about their life experiences and what effect it has had on their success. Frana’s is fascinating. He went from studying to be a Christian Brother to shooting at the enemy in Vietnam to running a major computer company in Washington.
The skills he learned in the Marines have had a huge effect on how he manages Vion.
He grew up the son of a career Naval officer. His father is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who served on the battleship Tennessee when it was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. His father also was present for the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944.
Frana grew up in the Washington area, where he attended St. John’s College High School in Northwest D.C. St. John’s, run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, is a breeding ground for some of the region’s most successful businessmen.
After finishing high school at another Christian Brothers school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Frana attended St. Mary’s College in Minnesota in preparation for becoming a De La Salle Christian Brother, a religious order devoted to teaching.
He left St. Mary’s to join the Marine Corps in 1965.
“The Marines were the same thing as the Christian Brothers,” Frana said. “You got up early, went to bed early, and had somebody telling you what to do all the time.”
After Marine boot camp in downtown San Diego, Frana became an “air delivery” specialist at Camp Lejeune, N.C., because it paid more than his job as a supply clerk.
“You pack parachutes, jump out of airplanes and drop equipment out of airplanes,” he said.
Frana’s years in the Marine Corps lasted from late 1965 to early 1969, including a one-year tour in Vietnam in 1968. He dropped ammunition, food and other supplies to remote Marine locations in south Vietnam during the infamous Tet Offensive, which involved some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
Between air delivery assignments, he spent 65 to 70 days in the jungle on patrol, carrying M14 rifles, M16 rifles, machine guns and even a grenade launcher, depending on what his orders were on a given day.