(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in our series spotlighting entrepreneurs who grew very successful businesses in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region. Today’s focus is on H. M. (Hash) Hashemian, the Co-Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation (AMS) who overcame a number of obstacles to build the global nuclear services company headquartered in West Knoxville.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Our initial interview with H. M. (Hash) Hashemian more than five years ago was the first time we had met in-person, and we left that discussion with a new friendship that has continued since then.
In the first article in a three-part series (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) that we published in March 2016, we wrote, “You know there is something very special about the Iranian-born business executive. It begins with the warm handshake and engaging smile as he greets you wherever you happen to meet . . . his office in West Knoxville or one of the lavish dinner parties Hashemian and Nazzy, his wife of 28 years, are noted for giving. His eyes sparkle as the impeccably-dressed nuclear expert engages you in an in-depth conversation that might cover any topic – from the local or state political scene to the impact the events on September 11, 2001 had on U.S. immigration policies and workforce availability. Regardless of the subject, you get the distinct impression that this business executive who earned three doctorates can engage in a conversation on any subject.”
Nothing has changed in the intervening years as we have engaged on numerous occasions with the Co-Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation (AMS). So, it was only natural that we wanted to talk with him again as part of the series spotlighting those who have successfully built companies in Knoxville.
“I was very naïve, and I didn’t think about the risk,” Hashemian says of the company that was launched in 1977. Noting he was a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) at the time, he added with a smile on his face, “I had nothing to lose other than time. When you are young and dumb, it sometimes works in your favor.”
While Hashemian cited several advantages – a great mentor and his original Co-Founder (Tom Kerlin) along with the nuclear energy expertise resident at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and UTK, he also noted disadvantages that many local entrepreneurs would not face.
“I was not born here,” Hashemian said, noting his Iranian heritage. “I spoke a different language. I tried to support myself. I wanted to do it on my own. I was handed a lot of things that I didn’t expect.”
Yet, in an important piece of advice for would-be entrepreneurs, he says, “Those disadvantages worked in my favor.” In other words, focus on your strengths and figure out how to compensate for those weaknesses.
Hashemian is the proverbial networker and lifelong learner. From his days as a doctoral student at UTK through today, he’s known for not being shy about asking questions and seeking advice from others.
In addition to Kerlin, he cited several other well-known UTK academic leaders who played important roles in helping him, particularly in the early days. They included longtime Dean of Engineering Fred Peebles (1968 to 1980) and Pietro (Pete) Pasqua, founding Head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering who served in that role for more than three decades.
“They saw opportunities in people like me and, instead of squashing me, they allowed it to happen,” Hashemian said, referring to his use of college facilities in the early days of AMS.
Local businessmen also helped the young entrepreneur including Bert Ackermann (Technology for Energy Corporation), Terry Douglass (CTI Molecular Imaging Inc. and later Provision Healthcare LLC), and Rafael Gonzalez (Perceptics Corporation, now known as Perceptics LLC).
“You need to develop relationships with the local business community,” Hashemian advises. “I found them very accessible and willing to help.”
One challenge that he acknowledges is one that many driven entrepreneurs face.
“Work-life balance has been a challenge,” Hashemian admits. Since his business is international, he must travel frequently, and he told us of a time when he flew from Europe back to Knoxville for a soccer game in which his son, Alex, played, only to return immediately after the contest.
What’s the biggest challenge facing AMS going forward? Not surprising, it is workforce – finding and retaining great staff. While Hashemian is proud that AMS has engineers who have been with the company as long as 30 years and turnover among longtime employees is rare, he says, “Workforce is as much of a problem here as it ever has been and as much here as anywhere in the U.S. We have more jobs than people.”
Citing the United Arab Emirates which has one million indigenous people and nine million immigrants, Hashemian says, “They’ve done it very well. America is very generous, but it does not have all the people we need.”