For the past 40 years, Ronnie Barrett and Barrett firearms have been synonymous with the .50 caliber rifle. After all, Ronnie designed and built the Barrett Model 82- the rifle so innovative that the Army sang its praises. What many don’t realize is that Ronnie Barrett designed the Model 82 at his dining room table and worked with a tool and die maker to create parts that didn’t even exist at the time.

Since then, Barrett has become a world leader in large-caliber rifle design and manufacturing. And throughout that time, Barrett has drawn a significant amount of attention for both his products and his staunch belief that his rifles were as much for individuals as agencies. That position led to his now-famous “firing” of California agencies as customers and cemented his position as a leader in the defense of the Second Amendment.

That’s why news that Barrett’s company had been acquired by Australian Nioa Group roiled the industry when it was announced at SHOT Show in January. For many, the idea that a “true American success story” like Ronnie Barrett would sell to a foreign group came as a shock.

Today’s edition is the first of our new Q&A Outdoor service, and the goal is to talk with business leaders -in and out of the outdoor industry- to gather business insights not otherwise available.

Our inaugural edition brings you the inside story on the Barrett/Nioa transaction from the man who started the whole ball rolling.

Today, Ronnie Barrett’s “Exit Interview.” Next week, we’ll introduce you to Robert Nioa of Nioa Group.


Jim Shepherd
So Ronnie, how long do you think it's been since we last talked? I think it’s been five or six years..that means it has probably been closer to ten or twelve.

Ronnie Barrett
It has been at least that long. Time does move.  It seems like just the other day that we did the 25 millimeter, you know, on the, on the 8281. Time flies. Somebody asked me, why is there a little notch on your gun? It was there so you could put a 25 millimeter cannon on top of the thing, and it’s still on all the rifles that we deliver. So anyway, time is flying by.

Jim Shepherd
I think the last time we talk, I tried to talk to you into running for governor told me you didn’t think so (laughing).

Ronnie Barrett
Well, you know… With Donna (editor’s note: Barrett’s wife) being in politics so long, we know that industry pretty good. And then it's so tough. She tried to get out of it. And she did when she retired from the House of Representatives.

But when they got stuck, they called and asked her “will you come back? Just come back and read the bills and tell us what they do and all that?” And so she considered that now, you know, then the Secretary of State calls and says, you’ve gotta come fix the election commission. So she's been doing that. And it's not a full time thing. It's just, you know, take these 30 counties, you know, appoint the people in that settle their arguments and all this other kind of so, you know, we'll never we'll never go back into politics or she won't, but she still is. So anyway, you never get out. You never get over malaria, either (laughing).

Jim Shepherd
So, let’s talk about experience…I’ve been told that “experience” is what you get when you think you’ll be getting something else. What do you see - now that you’re about to get “out” of the gun business?

Ronnie Barrett
You never get out of a business that you were born into. Think all gun people are born gun babies. It's just their way. So I am selling the company, but since I was a child, I’ve been a gun guy. I shot BB guns, .22s, and now I’ve fired everything from tanks to every weapon that they've made.

But there's a time for a business in America, that you have to look at an exit strategy. You have to plan for your death.

And since we have the death tax here in the United States, there is no way to have a 500 year old company like Beretta or something like that.

So the business has to be transferred over for the good of the business and for the good of the employees, so that it will continue to grow.

So after 40 years now is a good time for Ronnie Barrett to to turn the company over to another very similar company, which is Nioa. Nioa is a family-owned business. They started around when we did. They've got a young Rob, Robert Nya, this is a younger man that's going to be able to carry on with with the same quality or products and quality of employees. Everything that we have done. I mean, they're virtually mirror image companies - just on two sides of the world.

I think Nioa is going to bring Barrett and into some more diverse things, too. So you're gonna see some of the very diverse things that they're doing, from artillery rounds to missile defense and things like that.

Hopefully, we'll come up with new ideas over here too, even if it just means Barrett continues to be the leaders in long range. That’s what Barrett is, you know. We have done a magnificent job of that our, our quality shows when you pick up one of the rifles, look at it. I've been with some of their managers and some of their people. And I see that they're the same folks. They're knowledgeable, they know what they're doing. They don't have to be micromanaged. And that's where Barrett’s been operating at for a really long time.

But I didn't notice it until COVID came around. We had to work through that - because we had defense contracts.

So everybody stayed at work - except for Ronnie who has some artificial heart valves and artificial aorta. So obviously, “Dad, you just have to stay home, you can't come out here”

Well, nothing was easy. But the company ran just fine. You know… it did not take Ronnie there every day doing everything, because Chris Barrett had hired Brad James and Sam Shallenberger, and several other good people. And they knew what they were doing.

And they were in place. And it was just smooth sailing.

So I thought, well, now this is this is interesting. Open your eyes. Yes.

So when it came time to, you know, the thing, we had to start working on an exit strategy and a way to pass things down to the grandchildren.

Right? We might delete this out…but there comes a time where you hear horror stories about somebody who had this big, multi 1000 acre ranch, family was doing good, everything's good.

The guy that owned the ranch dies, and suddenly his children are broke. Because they have an inheritance problem that they can't pay.

There's not liquid money laying around to pay millions and millions of dollars in inheritance taxes.

You got to start working on that years in advance, just so you'll be able to die.

So we did that.

And all of this is a part of the the strategy to be able to leave things on to the to your heirs without losing it all to Washington. That doesn't really blow my skirt up, sending our hard earned money, you know, to wastrels. Yeah.

You know, so I didn't mean to get into politics like that, but it's kind of the it's part of an overall phone.

So you do what you can to protect your company. And we are serving soldiers that are putting their lives on the line…they need the product.

And, you know, every one of our rifles that's ever been adopted by the US government, you can still buy. So there's still a need for them. Barrett is the first time a father and son have both had their rifles adopted by the US government. That’s never heard of in our history.

So somebody has to be here to make sure that our service people are going to be able to get the equipment. It would have been selfish of me not to make plans for progress — and everybody stays in Murfreesboro. All of our staff is there. I know…

Jim Shepherd
You have the reassurance is that it’s not going anywhere…

Ronnie Barrett
Barrett will still be here. Still under that Barrett brand. We're running the same location. Nobody's jobs, you know, were lost. You know, Brian James moves up to president, Sam Shallenberger goes to CEO, and they’re going to let me come back in there and sweep up the floors at night (laughing).  I'm excited about that.

Jim Shepherd
So you’ll still be hammering away on…something

Ronnie Barrett
Yeah..(laughing)…They've got Chris and I both hired on as advisors whenever they need something. Now I just have to learn how to shut my mouth until they ask… I've been working on that and I think I can be successful.

Jim Shepherd
But you have always spoken up when you believe something strongly…like your “firing” of California as a customer…

Ronnie Barrett
Yes. Well, I'm a big Second Amendment proponent. I’m a big constitutionalist. I think our Constitution is a good document. I believe a man that men and women have made it possible for us now to, to live this wonderful dream in the United States. It's correct….it doesn't need to be changed.

And the individual right for owning arms shall not be infringed.

And I mean, you don't need to be messing with it at all. And we have some people that want to mess with it. They’re not happy at not being able to control the citizenry and things like that.

So yeah, speak up is what I’ve done. I've been a director on the NRA Board of Directors there for since 2009. And started as the vice president of the NRA Foundation, which is gives grants for ranges and all sorts of things that the wonderful NRA does for us.

So yeah, that's big.

Jim Shepherd
Yeah. Have you thought the least bit about “when Ronnie steps back”? Will I lose my platform? Will people not care what you do?

You know, you've been a thought leader in addition to being a business leader. You have a legacy in more than your family, and your business…speak to that if you will..

Ronnie Barrett
Take a look at history and legacy….Well, there’s a certain amount of respect that will never diminish from from, from this position of being the founder and the inventor of the 8281. You know, it'll never go away.

So I'll stay young as long as I can. I'll be 69 in March but I feel like I'm 40. So I'll keep doing, God willing.

And God has been very good to us. We've had good health, good children, and had good fortune. It just, it's been magnificent. It's been a wonderful ride.

Jim Shepherd
What what do you want to do?

Ronnie Barrett
Well, my wife is still heavy into politics, and different things like that. And of course, I've got a car collection. I'll be with Barrett. They've like said they've they've kept me on as a technical adviser. I’ll be at the shows with the NRA show. And any place they need me to go. So I'm not lacking for a lots of fun things to do.

Jim Shepherd
So…cars, maybe?

Ronnie Barrett
Cars? Yeah. I've still got a bunch of old muscle cars, Corvettes, Mustangs, the Jaguars, Rolls Royce. Got a couple of “rollers” out back there. So yeah, I love old cars. I’ll keep doing that.

You know, I had such a great time restoring those cars because I did the work myself. I gave Chris a ’71 Mustang convertible when he was 15 years old. And I said ‘it'll take you a year to restore this car. If you get it restored. You'll have a car to drive.’

And he did it. It took him a year but he put new paint on it. Put a new V-8 engine in it and then a totally new interior.

He drove that thing all the way through high school - and never got a speeding ticket. Never got a scratch on that car. And I still got it in my garage - and it looks beautiful.

We restored all those but now that I'm finding out that tires get old and rubber parts have to be replaced. So we're in the process of repairing all the cars, putting new rubber and new hoses. Yes, even though they may only 4000 miles or so on them, but it’s a hobby that never quits.

Jim Shepherd
You're a collector, I'm an accumulator. But we’re both photographers. You appreciate lines of cars, guns, whatever - and the craftsmanship.

Ronnie Barrett
Yes, we appreciate lines and continuity. Look at any of the Barrett products - they have a continuity about them. We have shared the hexagon shape across our products - even on extrusions that really didn’t need the hex shape. Today, every rifle looks like ours. Everybody’s got the flat slab sides. But that was a Barrett original- and I’m glad that I could help everyone else out (laughing).

But our guns look …good. They don’t have to have our styling- but everything Barrett does. If you look at the ejection port on the side of the semi-automatic .50s, that angle on the back of the ejection port is not just there to look good. It actually deflects the round down at an angle that keeps them from flying back into the shirt.

So so we didn't do sexy look just for the sake of sexy look. Each feature has to have a function.

Jim Shepherd
Very Frank Lloyd Wright?

Ronnie Barrett
Yeah, but looking forward.

Jim Shepherd
Rob Nioa…are you guys kindred spirits? I mean, you were the guy who fired California. What do you say to the people who are concerned that Barrett will change philosophically? I’ve already heard “Barrett sold out…to foreigners…”

Ronnie Barrett
We're taking no difference. The stance that we took years ago on, you know “we're not going to be selling to any government agencies that are trying to establish some sort of superior force against its own citizenry - we are just not going to do it” - that won’t change. American manufacturing will continue that stance; we're remaining steadfast on that.

I've had good friends that are sheriffs in California, they say, you know I’m against that position, too. Why don’t you sell me some stuff?”

It breaks my heart to say, ‘No, I'm not bending on that.’ I tell them ‘If you want change something, change your government, change the stance that your legislatures have voted for it and come back, come back to the founding fathers ways. Then we will do business.’

But I'm not going to be supportive of an elitist force.

I ask them ‘Can you realize how bad that sounds?’ To say we're going to establish an elitist force? We can have that- but you can’t - boy, are we headed into trouble?

If you go along with that, I tell them, I won't do it, I won't participate.

And, yes, Nioa is Australian…but the Australians have been with us since World War One. In every battle that America has been in they’ve been right with us - even when other countries were not. Some of our other allies didn’t always come, but Australia has …through World War One and two and Korea and Vietnam and everywhere.

We have always stood with each other. So what a perfect blend…. an American company with an Australian company. Like-minded folks making the best quality stuff we we can make. It's going to be better and better and better.

Jim Shepherd
A lot of people I respect have said “We know the Nioa family and Barrett made the right decision.”

You've kept busy… I would imagine you have some things going on….any insight?

Ronnie Barrett
We got got some patent stuff that I'm still working, and when we get that finished up you should stay tuned for another great gun. It's beautiful, and will be the leader in long range. So I'm excited about some pet projects. I’ve gotta finish up to make sure that everything's in order….we’ve always got something going on. And we are sold out of things for years to come. Right now, our priority is getting our customers -government and civilian taken care of. There will be some real nice stuff coming for years and years…as always.

Jim Shepherd
Here’s where you get the last word

Ronnie Barrett
I’m a company man. Some people say, boy, when I’m gone, I want to be gone. Well, I want the company to do well. That’s something I've done all my life. I got a computer in my office after all my other people got their computers. I got my desk after everybody else had a desk.

We were small, I started in a garage. So after all my people got everything they needed. After they got equipment, then I would take some. So it's worked for me.

And I want to make sure that the new company has everything they need. I’m still a company man. That’s where it’s been for 40 years. I do a good job taking care of the customers that are taking care of my employees.

Make sure the product is quality, and it’ll do OK. It’s worked for me all these years, so I’m still that way.

Might not be a profound ending…but that’s where I am.

Jim Shepherd
I appreciate the time. When we first met, you had no idea who I was, and yet you took time to talk. That was a while back, and I appreciate it just as much today as I did then. Thank you.

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