He’s one ‘cool cat’, iPass chief exec Michael Mansouri known for displaying grace under pressure

iPass chief exec Michael Mansouri known for displaying grace under pressure

Whether ambling through Azerbaijan, zipping through Zambia or bopping along through Bakersfield, you can connect your laptop to your company’s Intranet in San Jose with a simple, local, phone call. For that, you can probably thank iPass.

The Redwood Shores-based company offers more than 14,000 locations around the globe for local connections to the Internet and virtual private networks. The connections are secure, often they are broadband, and they’re cheap, says iPass.

Growing the 5-year-old software company is Michael Mansouri, who came to the United States as a college student from pre-revolution Iran.

“I was fascinated by computers and the best place you could get that education was in the United States,” he says. Mr. Mansouri received his bachelor’s degree from Utah State. “There were like six of us in the whole [program],” he says.

Mr. Mansouri received his master’s in operations research from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He started his career with a small company near the university. After executive postings with several telecommunications companies over the years, including Sprint International, he was tapped to head iPass.

Growth has been solid, although the worldwide economic slowdown has affected iPass in that companies are having employees travel less, and thus there’s less need to use iPass services.

“It’s slowed down but we’ve still grown by double digits every quarter,” he says. “We finished last year with about $35 million in revenue. This year, close to $65 million … with excellent margins.”

George Tronsrue, now chairman and CEO of Monet Mobile Networks, a third-generation wireless company based in Seattle, hired and worked with Mr. Mansouri at a startup called ACSI, which later morphed into e.Spire.

“I hired him in 1994,” Mr. Tronsrue says. “He looked like a guy you’d have fun with but he also had a laserlike focus on the business.”

He says Mr. Mansouri is famous for remaining calm and clear-headed in tense situations.

“He is a cool cat,” Mr. Tronsrue says. “He keeps his head. He’s always thinking several steps ahead of the competition. He buckles down under pressure but tries to keep things fun for his team.”

Mr. Tronsrue, who is a member of the iPass board and an investor in the firm, says Mr. Mansouri has “built a great team. He’s hit every single mark he’s set for the business.”

Phone companies with their toll-free numbers are the biggest competitors for iPass, says Mr. Mansouri.

“People still have an emotional attachment to them,” he says with a smile. MCI Worldcom, AT&T, Sprint and other global carriers are the companies, although Sprint and Genuity, another carrier, resell iPass services, he notes.

Equant, the giant French telecommunications company, is another competitor with which iPass has teamed up. Cisco Systems signed up for iPass service in conjunction with Equant, Mr. Mansouri says.

“As a small company we need to compete and cooperate with the global players,” he says. Because the iPass software is platform agnostic — it doesn’t care what the operating system might be — the company has a unique advantage, he explains.

“What competition has taught us in this tough market is to focus more on our core competencies,” he says. “We have the vision and we will get there but first we’ve got to go through this [economic] storm, make sure we come out of it with all pieces and parts connected.”

Like any CEO in Silicon Valley, Mr. Mansouri finds that stress comes with the job description. For him, relief is spelled P-a-g-e M-i– R-o-a-d, the hilly, twisting road above Palo Alto. Mr. Mansouri says his lifelong fascination with cars has boiled down to ownership of two “not-your-father’s-Oldsmobile” vehicles — a Porsche 911 and an older Porsche 944. He says he enjoys tooling along Page Mill Road “for a little spin” and a great way to relieve stress.

“You don’t drive recklessly,” he says, adding that he keeps to the speed limit.

He recalls driving cars and motorcycles as a young teen in Iran.

“I just love them,” he says. “Driving fast is one thing, but driving fast with control — that’s what I like.”

He says he tries to spend as much time as possible with his 9-year-old daughter, who is active in swimming, soccer and basketball. His older daughter, 22, just graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His wife, a consultant, has been spending the past year supervising the remodeling of their home.

Mr. Mansouri has seen Silicon Valley at its highest peak and watches as it slides into what many hope is just another cyclical low. He says the valley has a deep reservoir of strength that some may be overlooking.

“Everybody wants to duplicate Silicon Valley. It’s impossible. The reason is the [venture capital] community has built an industry here. The contacts are here, the money is here, the brains are here,” he says.

He says iPass held off on its own IPO last year because of market conditions.

“Our No. 1 asset is the employees. We felt that putting the company through unnecessary turbulence was not good,” he says.

That has not stopped those with the really big checkbooks from investing. Rogers Communications, the Canadian cable television powerhouse, is one of the latest private investors in iPass, Mr. Mansouri says.

A business partner and neighbor says Mr. Mansouri has strong optimism.

“When you socialize with someone you have to think very highly of them,” says Farzad Naimi, founder, chairman and CEO of IQLabs Inc. of Hayward. “Beyond the fact that he’s very intelligent, he’s a very good human being. He sets a role model for integrity, very strong values and principles which he carries to his work environment as well.”

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