Source: Teknovation.Biz | Tom Ballard | March 4, 2016
There’s something very special about Hash Hashemian
The minute you meet H. M. “Hash” Hashemian for the first time, 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. Hashemian is clearly a lifelong learner . . . studying people and issues as he has grown Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation (AMS).
The company’s President and Chief Executive Officer is also an inventor, serving as the author or co-author of 11 awarded and nine pending U.S. patents. In addition, Hashemian has written more than 300 papers and reports including 70 that were peer-reviewed. He is also a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society and the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society.
Today, AMS plays a key role in ensuring the safe and cost-effective operation of virtually every U.S. nuclear power plant and many of those in Europe and Asia. Its global position comes from the development and application of industry-leading instrumentation and control testing and analysis equipment and services.
As AMS has developed these technologies, it has been perhaps the most successful company we have ever encountered in the pursuit of federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants. At last count, AMS had won more than 50 with more than half of those since 2010.
So, who is “Hash” Hashemian and how did he choose to grow an international business based in Knoxville?
Over the past several months, we have enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about this local executive who does business very successfully on an international stage in an industry sector that is not without controversy even as it plays a critical role in meeting global energy demands.
Hashemian was born in Iran in 1950. His father was a very successful criminal trial attorney, and the younger Hashemian earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from a local university. It was the early 1970s, a few years before the Iranian Revolution that saw the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty.
Hashemian describes it as a time when “all (Iranians) that could afford to leave (for an education) did so. It was easy to get a visa.”
Pursuing additional education was also a cultural priority.
“In Iran, education was and still is number one,” Hashemian notes.
On July 4, 1974, the young Iranian arrived in Houston, TX and was driven by his brother to Beaumont, TX to enroll at Lamar University. While he planned to pursue his master’s degree, Hashemian decided to leave Lamar after a couple of semesters because he did not like Beaumont. He would later earn a Doctor of Engineering degree from the school.
“I wanted to go somewhere good,” he explained, noting one of his aunts was pursuing her post-doctoral work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the time.
“I heard UT was a good place to get a master’s,” Hashemian said, so he headed to Knoxville with the full intention of completing the degree and returning to Iran.
Hash Hashemian joins with UT faculty member to found AMS
The year was 1977, and it was the beginning of demonstrations in Iran against the Shah that eventually led to the Iranian Revolution.
It was also the year that H. M. “Hash” Hashemian earned his Master of Science in Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee (UT). He had planned to return to his native country, but those plans changed, partly because of the situation and also because of an opportunity.
Hashemian had been a student of Tom Kerlin, a faculty member who would later become Department Head of Nuclear Engineering.
“He was a fantastic mentor and great Professor,” Hashemian says of Kerlin. The two joined forces and founded Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation (AMS) in 1977 based on research being performed at UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
In today’s vernacular, it would be described as a spin-out.
Fast forward a few years, and Hashemian was talking with his father who was still in Iran.
“AMS was not doing great, just doing OK,” the company’s Co-Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer recalls telling his father. “I wanted to make it more.”
The answer was to purchase Kerlin’s interest in AMS over a three-year period.
“I walked into the deal with $10 in my pocket,” Hashemian says. “If I defaulted on the terms, he got the whole company.”
At the time – 1985, AMS had about five employees plus its new sole owner.
“I was not a kid by age, but in experience,” Hashemian says.
His plan to ensure success was hard work with a focused strategy that included adding something new every year.
“I wanted to expand . . . to take some chances,” he says of a decision in 1986 to move to the company’s current location on Cross Park Drive. AMS initially leased about a fourth of Building A.
“We are now in almost four buildings, and we own three of them,” Hashemian says.
In 1987, Hashemian married Nazzy who lived in Boston. They have a daughter and a son.
Two federal programs – Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) – have played critical roles in the growth of AMS.
Hashemian says the company has won more than 28 Phase I SBIR awards and another 21 or more Phase II. AMS also won two Phase IIIs and a couple of STTR awards. By any standard, this is an impressive record.
“We don’t do it for revenue,” Hashemian says, “It subsidizes our research.”
The end result is more commercially-viable products.
“We have commercialized in some way at least 70 percent of the work,” Hashemian says. “We have two nuclear plants we are in today as a result of SBIR work.”
He is an advocate for matching the federal program with a means-tested state initiative, similar to programs offered in neighboring states.
Workforce recruitment a key priority for Hashemian
Like any technical company, Knoxville-basedAnalysis and Measurement Services Corporation (AMS) is always concerned about workforce availability, particularly at a time when the importance of nuclear energy has never been higher.
“I need 30 to 40 staff,” H. M. “Hash” Hashemian, AMS’ President and Chief Executive Officer, says. The need extends beyond engineers to administrative people as well.
It helps that Knoxville is home to one of the nation’s oldest and most respected Departments of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee. Yet, Hashemian notes there are not enough engineers, particularly in the Knoxville job market that he describes as “very hot.” Adding to the problem are immigration laws that make it more challenging to hire non-U.S. citizens.
“We are finding people,” he says, adding that he frequently conducts interviews on the weekend to accommodate the schedules of interviewees. AMS is also mindful of being competitive in both salary and benefits, using Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a key benchmark.
Recruiting and retaining highly-qualified people is a key for AMS as it serves clients in this country as well as Europe and Asia.
Hashemian is a frequent traveler to other countries, meeting with colleagues at international nuclear industry conferences and regularly serving as a keynote speaker. Those activities have given him a distinct view of the industry – over the years and into the future.
“In 2008 everything was going gangbusters for the nuclear industry,” he says, adding that several things changed the landscape.
“The economic downturn impacted nuclear,” Hashemian says. “Growth (demand for energy) was not as great as anticipated.”
Then, there was the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the resulting damage to four reactor buildings at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, and the fallout from the accident. Other key factors affecting the industry were the success of fracking and the resulting low price of natural gas, the rise of renewables and subsidies for them, and the deregulation of markets.
In spite of these factors, Hashemian is bullish on the industry sector.
His optimism starts with AMS’ base of operations being in the South and the fact that his firm services almost every U.S. nuclear plant.
“We support the existing fleet of power plants that are on average 30 years old,” Hashemian says. “We are focused on helping maintain them. They’re looking at an 80-year horizon.”
There’s also the reality that this region is the location where two new nuclear plants are being constructed – one each in Georgia and South Carolina. Then, there’s the fact that nuclear is clean, something that is becoming increasingly important.
“Nuclear is going to be recognized as a major way to address environmental concerns,” Hashemian says.
Couple all of these positive factors with one other.
“This country is responsible for almost all of the technology used in nuclear today,” Hashemian.
For a company with 20 issued or pending patents, a 38-year history of performance, established products, and an international footprint, how could you not be optimistic?