More than 30 years ago, Mike Baghramian realized he probably had gone as far as he could working for someone else, so he decided to start his own company. He was desperate to make his first sale—a $500,000 contract with Toshiba. Eighteen months later his company, Bager Electronics Inc., was doing $2 million in monthly sales.
“If you really think about it, you’re forced to go in a direction. You reach decision points in life—crossroads—and have to decide, should I go on my own? It was the toughest decision I ever made,” he recalled.
He started Bager in 1980 from his home and since then, sales have increased every year, even during industry downturns. Today, the firm’s offices in Southern California and Arizona sell semiconductor components and provide design support for electronics applications.
“When I started, I thought, I don’t know anything special but neither did my competition. All you have to do is be one percent better; then you have a chance. What to do is more difficult than how you do it,” he said. “You have to have a sense of urgency that drives you to the decision. In our business, the rate of changes creates havoc if you don’t recognize it. If you fight the flow instead of going with the flow, you go out of business. Change in our business is thrust upon us. You have to anticipate it and be ahead of the curve.”
Baghramian’s family immigrated to the United States from Iran when he was 10 years old, first settling in Detroit before moving to Venice, Calif. After graduating from Santa Monica College, he completed his bachelor of science in electrical engineering at Cal State Long Beach in 1966.
While in school, he worked at two aerospace firms. After graduation, he worked his way up through engineering and sales positions at Beckman Instruments Heliport Division, Fairchild Semiconductor and American Micro Systems, eventually becoming its western area sales manager. At Fairchild and American Micro, he promoted state-of-the-art semiconductor components for a variety of electronics systems applications before stepping out on his own.
“In all business endeavors, you have to know what the mission is and that leads you to a goal and forces you to execute with a sense of urgency,” said Baghramian, a member of the College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council and the college’s 2011 distinguished alumnus.
“I have always felt that I received a world-class education at CSULB,” he added. “I learned all the basic fundamentals of how technology works. While at school, I lived in the dorms and worked my way through school. These experiences developed my social and personal skills, which have served me well throughout my life.
“All my experiences at CSULB were some of the best of times for me. The friends I made here are still my best friends,” he continued. “I had some great engineering instructors on subjects that were very dry and difficult. They helped me understand that if you can learn the basics of business and tie them to the discipline that your degree is in, you can make it. In the end we all go to school to become someone. This university has helped numerous people achieve their goals and dreams. In the state school system, CSULB stands in a class by itself.”
Baghramian remains involved with the university, spearheading the Leadership & Entrepreneurship Initiative and CSULB Innovation Challenge, a collaborative student competition involving the Colleges of Engineering and Business Administration to identify and develop ideas with commercial potential.
“Anything we can do to give the students a head start is helpful,” he said of Innovation Challenge, which in its first year led to creation of an electric motocross bike. The winning team earns a package of business services and up to $10,000 of seed funding to further develop its concept and business plan for a commercially viable product.
“The beauty, at that point, is that their minds are pretty open and have no barriers,” he added. “I think that’s where creativity comes from. We have to develop a means to tap into that. Academia may look at it as a learning experience. I look at it as a business experience. We have a lot of great minds over there and it’s folly not to give them a chance. The kids get senior management exposure from the mentors we provide them. You get some community involvement, and it could be a financial success in the future. Some of the most successful companies started on college campuses. Protecting turf is a big barrier to entrepreneurship. So, Innovation Challenge is really an ideal program. The only thing it is lacking is more funding.”
An avid golfer, Baghramian has advice for future entrepreneurs: “When is it a good time to start your own company? There is never a good time or a bad time. You can’t take it back. It’s like missing a putt. You can improve your putting skills, but you can’t take back the missed putt. Think your idea through properly. Make sure there’s a marketable need for the product or service. Develop a business plan. Once you have made the commitment, stick with it and don’t give up knowing full well it’s not going to be easy.”