Sam Simonian

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On the Central Board of Directors of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) (current 2002)

Representative from the United States.


Texas Armenians
by David Zenian

Dallas - Sam Simonian is a self-made man. His money was not inherited, and neither was the multi-million-dollar telecommunications business he built from the ground floor up with partners Elie Akilian and Mark Weinzierl.

Growing up in war-torn Lebanon, he had a reputation among his peers as an adventurous teenager who would risk sniper fire just to be with friends across one of east Beirut's most dangerous confrontation lines.

A graduate of the Armenian General Benevolent Union's (AGBU) Hovaguimian-Manougian secondary school in Beirut, Simonian had just started his freshman year in 1975 at the American University of Beirut (AUB) when the Lebanese civil war began.

"I was doing very well, going to AUB and in my spare time tutoring high school students in math. The money was good and I was happy. The United States was not in the cards," he said.

But his parents thought otherwise.

"One day, my father decided that Beirut was not for me and my brother. It was too dangerous for an adventurous teenager," he said.

Arriving at the age of 19 in the Dallas area - "because my aunt was here" - Simonian studied electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington on an AGBU scholarship loan, and after graduation, went to work for Electrospace Systems Inc., where along with friends Akilian - an old friend from Beirut - and Weinzierl, he was part of a team of engineers designing telecommunications equipment for the defense industry.

The pay was good, but as the years moved on, Simonian and his friends were getting restless. They had new ideas on the drawing boards but were not encouraged by their managers to develop their concepts into actual products.

"We felt tied down. We recognized the opportunities in the telecommunications market and decided it was time to take the plunge," Simonian said.

The computer and telecommunications industries were expanding and there was room for growth.

In January 1989, the three engineers resigned from Electrospace Systems Inc., put down 6,000 dollars each in start-up capital , invested in a fax machine and a 200 dollar piece of testing equipment, coined a name - INET - and went to work building a dream based on a business plan which was drafted on the back of a paper napkin at a Denny's fast food restaurant.

At the time, INET meant nothing, but it sure had a nice high-tech ring to it. But more than a name, it had three hard-nosed and stubborn engineers determined to move ahead in one of the fastest changing and most competitive lines of the communications business.

They were told by friends that big companies would crush them in no time. Others said they would be clobbered.

"We listened to them, but we also listened to what the telecommunications market was saying. We paid attention to the needs of the market and from day one, we treated every customer as if they were our only one," Simonian says.

The first product Simonian and his partners decided to launch was a system designed for companies with international switching centers to test and troubleshoot their networks.

The product was named Turbo-6, and true to its name, it was the boost INET needed to get off the ground. It helped customers route calls efficiently and track down and fix problems - usually before they were apparent to users.

Within three months of beginning work on Turbo-6, INET got its first contract with a division of Nippon Telephone and Telegraph.

"It was worth 77,000 dollars and we were all making plans to retire," Simonian says jokingly.

"But that was when we were thinking as engineers, not like accountants. Texas was built by pioneers, people who took risks ," Simonian says and he adds with a smile. "We had to think big."

The initial income was recycled back into the business which meant the three young partners had to go without salaries for 18 months while working on expanding the company's client base.

"We were frugal with ourselves, but threw everything into the business," he said.

This also meant running personal credit card debts which at times hit as high as 40,000 dollars for each of the three partners.

But soon the tide changed, and new business started pouring in. Six years and more than two dozen telecommunication products later, INET today employs 130 engineers, computer programmers and analysts.

INET's clients include AT&T Co., Sprint Corporation, MCI Corporation, McCaw Cellular Corporation, Ericsson N.V., Northern Telecom Inc., DSC Communications Corporation, British Telecom, Cable & Wireless Communications Inc., and all of the Bell operating companies.

A look at INET's growth rate supports Simonian's ambitious projections.

Since its first 77,000 dollar contract in 1989, sales leaped to 400,000 dollars in 1990, passed the 8.2 million dollar mark in 1992 and reached 12.8 million dollars in 1993.

That performance alone made INET the fastest growing privately-owned company in the Dallas area in 1993 and pushed it to the top of the prestigious Dallas 100 list.

Simonian himself was named Entrepreneur of the Year for the Southwest by Inc. Magazine and Ernest & Young - a dream come true for the young engineer-businessman who has already donated more than 16,000 dollars to the AGBU "where I learned to appreciate the value of education."

"The AGBU gave me an education, and now I have to reciprocate by making it possible for others to get a similar opportunity. Payback is part of the American way of doing things . We cannot just take, we have to give also," Simonian says.

Although based in Texas, INET has developed a global perspective. Since its first customer from Japan, its products have been deployed by wireless and landline telephone carriers, test labs, and manufacturers throughout the world.

Early in 1996, yet another INET product, the Spider, will go on the market to give wireless communications a new boost. With its not much thicker than credit card size and very low power consumption, the Spider will allow any laptop computer wireless access to the Information Superhighway.

Sam Simonian and his friends have invested two million dollars into the development of the Spider.

Another risk? Why not. This is Texas.