by Jyothsna Hegde | January 2021
“If you are starting a company, you need to understand the product you want to offer and make absolutely sure that the product is super stable and works well. Everything else should follow,” said Subramonian Shankar, President and CEO of Amzetta Technologies, and founder of American Megatrends, Inc. (AMI)
Atlanta added Subramonian Shankar to its list of multi- millionaires back in 2001 when he divested the RAID division of AMI to LSI Logic Corp for $221.5 million dollars. While AMI’s RAID was the world’s leading RAID product and was used by many of the leading server firms at that time, it was still only one part of mega empire he constructed.
The Chennai-born, Indian Institute of Science (Madras) and New Brunswick University (US) alumnus Shankar started his career as an Engineer at Tata Electric Companies, Bombay, India in 1971. On a study leave from Tata Electric, he served as Staff Engineer EMR Telemetry, Sarasota, Florida. Shankar went back to India as Development Manager, MMC Digital Systems, Calcutta. India where he worked between 1980 and 1985. Pioneering came naturally to Shankar, when he created India’s fist IBM PC clone.
How did Shankar come to be an entrepreneur? Shankar, who had been to the US in the 80s had a green card. “But it was not easy to find a job back then,” he notes. So, he had gone back to India. The company he worked for in Calcutta for five years was on the verge on bankruptcy owing to some regulations. As luck would have it, a friend in the US who was well aware of Shankar’s line of work invited him to start a business in the US and also promised to let him run it. “I didn’t have a job in India. Why not go to the US and try my luck there. I had nothing to lose,” said Shankar. True that! He only had everything to gain.
During a time when nothing more than $20 in cash was allowed in international travel, all Shankar could bank on was his talent and education. With no financial backing or secure funding for AMI, Shankar founded AMI in New Jersey in 1985, choosing to build up the company through retained earnings. “AMI has never taken venture capital. Since its inception in 1985, AMI has been completely self-financed,” Shankar proudly claims.
At a time when the personal computer was so new that few owners understood the working of Basic Input Output System or BIOS, AMI had set on trailblazing path. In just 4 years AMI was recognized as one of America’s fastest growing tech companies and in fairly short order, it was the world’s number one manufacturer of BIOS firmware. The company started as a manufacturer of complete motherboards, positioning itself in the high-end segment. Its first customer turned out to be PCs Ltd, later known as the one and only, Dell Computers. The company focused on the BIOS software portion of the motherboard business, even as it diversified towards technology rich products such as server motherboards (1992), storage controllers (1995) and remote management cards (1998). Another of AMI’s greatest success came in 1996 with MegaRAID, a storage controller card that made its mark in the industry.
Even as AMI maintained its lead in the BIOS world, Shankar navigated AMI towards expanding its range including firm ware for storage networks, embedded and ultra-mobile computing. AMI was in fact the first to develop and build a motherboard for Intel’s Quad Xeon processor, the first to build support in the BIOS for the universal Serial Bus or USB, that everyone is well acquainted with. AMI also joined VM Ware to create its own virtualization solution that facilitates the use of multiple operating systems on a single platform while saving power by suspending unused OS environments. Its Mobile Applications Group is also one of the first to come up with software solutions which help to quickly boot up a slew of applications running under Microsoft’s Windows Mobile or Google’s Android. AMI also embraced Server and client management, with computer platform clients such as Acer and IBM for its management firmware.
Over the years, AMI has created several products that have been used by many of the world’s leading companies that are household names.
“I have been involved in what I would call two major events in the lifetime of AMI – in 2001 and in 2019,” says Shankar.
In 2001, Shankar divested the RAID division of AMI to LSI Logic. AMI’s RAID had risen to be the world’s leading RAID product and was used by many of the leading server firms at that time. After 2001, AMI’s BIOS/UEFI and server management solutions became world’s leading products.
In 2019, HGGC a PE firm acquired a majority stake in AMI, when Shankar stepped down from his role of President/CEO of AMI and moved to Amzetta. AMI retained the business units that AMI was well known in the industry for, the BIOS/UEFI and Server Management Solutions (MegaRAC). At the time of this sale, AMI’s products were used by many of the world’s Computer manufacturers (Dell, Acer, Samsung, Asus, Lenovo, etc. ), Server manufacturers (HPE, Inspur, Inventec, Quanta, etc.) Cloud Service Providers (Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc.), IC/CPU manufacturers (Intel, AMD, etc.), Telcos (Nokia, ZTE, etc.).
Amzetta is a spin-off from AMI that includes those business units from AMI that were still in their infancy and had not yet acquired market traction. AmZetta Technologies is primarily a software company that that provides solutions for modern business IT infrastructure. AmZetta’s product line includes Amzetta Digital Workspace, StorTrends HighPerformance data storage appliances, SnapVDI Thin Clients and B.O.L.T. health monitoring medical devices. With several of the products “reengineered and re-purposed”, as Shakar put it, during the pandemic, it is still not easy to showcase and market the new product without any physical shows and meetings, he adds.
Amongst all the successes that came along his way, Shankar admits that initiating AMI and the first year of its inception was the most memorable and exciting. “It got started with no funding. It started as a consulting company,”
And about the biggest challenge he faced, Shankar recalled the times when the motherboards AMI created had turned out be benchmarks for the industry. As the leading producer, they were regularly featured in various magazines, including PC Magazine, and a company showed keen interest in investing with AMI. Shankar got into an agreement with the company, without reading between the lines of agreement, only to realize that he was being cheated. And the case ended in a lawsuit. The company hired expensive attorneys who almost convinced the judge to issue an injunction against AMI. Shankar shudders to think about the consequences, had the judge not ruled in AMI’s favor. “It was a narrow call. But we were able to succeed.”
Where does he go from here? “I want to just to get Amzetta established and then completely retire after that,” said the pioneer.
What is his advice for the future generation? ”My father told me the best gift I can give you, is to make sure you get a good education. And I believe that is very true even today,” said Shankar. He takes it a step further, adding that he encourages youngsters to get a degree in STEM from a good university. “You should be able to succeed with that anytime, anyplace, anywhere.” Shankar also stresses upon never giving up when the chips are down, much like him who started a company with no funding and led it to pinnacle of success. “If you are starting a company then you understand what product you want to offer and make absolutely sure that the product is super stable and works well. Everything else should follow.”
Shankar fondly recalls the times he frequented IACA campus during initial years of his move to Atlanta. He, along with wife Lakshmi and their kids frequented the IACA premises to meet other Indian families, who were few and far between back then.
Mrs. Lakshmi recalled the times she taught Tamil as a substitute teacher at the IACA temple to kids from Tamil Sangam. ”Most of the Indian events, from Telugu, Tamil, and even Bengali associations happened at the IACA premises.” While acknowledge the large number of regional associations across Atlanta today, Shankar believes IACA still has a unique purpose. “IACA can serve as the umbrella organization to being people of all regions together.”
Shankar resides is Atlanta with his wife Lakshmi, daughter Ambika, son Ananth, daughter in law Uma, and his grandkids, Rukmani and Keshav.