Even if you are not a smoker, you have probably heard that the price of cigarettes has gone up dramatically over the years. But $25M for a pack of smokes is outrageous! Yet alumnus, Dr. Raif Onvural jokingly says that is what his investors claimed a single cigarette almost cost them. Of course, this is only part of Raif's incredible journey.
Raif left his homeland of Turkey in 1982 on scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in the United States. After receiving his master's degree at Syracuse, he found himself at NC State for his doctoral studies. "I came to the states for lots of reasons, not all of them academic," jokes Raif. "I was a normal curious ambitious young man in pursuit of fun and adventure," he adds, "but I grew up fast."
After completing his master's degree in computer science in 1985, he took on a Teaching Assistant's (TA) role for his doctoral advisor, Dr. Harry Perros. "I don't think I was really cut out to be a TA," Raif said, and "Dr. Perros reassigned me to a Research Assistant's (RA) role, for which I was much better suited."
Dr. Perros continued to have a profound influence of Raif and his development. He recalls a time when he was really struggling with his thesis and Dr. Perros stepped in to make a strange recommendation. "He basically told me to go back to Turkey for a while until I could get focused," Raif said. "I think he felt I needed some of my Mom's cooking." The advice seemed to work and after a brief trip back home, Raif returned to finish his studies, earning his Ph.D. in operations research in 1987.
He always planned to go back home to Turkey after graduation, but Raif also had dreams of success that led him to explore opportunities here in the United States.
"I worked for Dr. Perros for a while at the university, before deciding to move into a corporate environment." For two years, he worked as a performance analyst, modeling software architecture for Bell Northern Research (BNR), the research arm of Nortel Networks. He left BNR to lead a systems architecture team at IBM, but left after six years to take on the challenge of launching Allied Telesyn's Raleigh operations.
Remembering lessons learned along the way, Raif says, "It was difficult when the Allied Telesyn operations were shut down here in Raleigh. I had put so much into that job and I was personally hurt and disappointed in the closure. But I came out of that experience with a renewed drive and focus on my dreams."
As this opportunity collapsed around him, another opportunity presented itself. Raif and four colleagues acted on their dreams and launched Orologic, Inc., with a business proposition founded on the belief that the major technology players would eventually evolve their business models to outsource their need for design and manufacture of highly specialized digital semiconductor chips.
"We were ahead of the curve," Raif recalls. "At first we were basically a garage operation with limited funding. We launched the business with about $200K in venture capital funding, and none of us received a salary for about a year. Not many people gave us a chance for survival." Their doubters could not have been more wrong.
Their plan slowly began to come together, and they hired their first full-time employee in July of 1998. This was followed by a few more staff additions over the next few months. "That was significant for us," said Raif. "It was a sign that we were beginning to turn the corner." Orologic really turned the corner in a big way in October of 1998 at the InterOp '98 tradeshow. "Ten of us piled into rented vans for the trip down to Atlanta and we worked all night long getting ready for the show to open. We were putting the finishing touches on our demo as the show opened at 8:00 am!" Their big break came when a Cisco executive approached them about a project. This was followed by major deals with Alcatel and other high tech players.
Not long after that, Raif found himself in negotiations with AMCC over the purchase of Orologic. "At one point, we became hopelessly stuck at the negotiating table, $50M apart on a deal," said Raif. "Finally, AMCC's VP of business development and I decided to take a walk outside and discuss it one-on-one over a cigarette. We returned with a deal in which we basically met in the middle." Raif felt good about the deal as he had negotiated it upwards by $25M. His business partners took a different approach, telling him that he had just smoked a $25M cigarette! One of his prized possessions is a framed pack of smokes in his office with the inscription "In case of negotiations, do not break glass!"
In an interesting twist of fate, the deal with AMCC fell through at the last minute, but Raif and his colleagues realized they had a business model that other companies would be interested in. In 2000, they sold Orologic to Vitesse Semiconductor Corporation for approximately $450M. The hard work paid off for Raif and his partners, as 18 of the 22 Orologic employees became instant millionaires. Almost all of them, including Raif, continue to work at Vitesse today. Raif, now the vice president of the Multiservice Solutions Group at Vitesse offers this simple advice to his fellow alumni: "Follow your dreams. If you believe in yourself, don't give up."
UPDATE - Since this feature was originally written in late-2001, Raif has left Vitesse and is now president and CEO of Litchfield Communications Inc. (LCI) in Watertown, CT.
- posted 2001 - Ken Tate-