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This week in our series Profiles in GRIT, we introduce you to Nooshin Yazhari, the president and CEO of Optimum Consultancy Services.
Nooshin, who was honored with a GRIT Award at our ceremony back in March, has an incredible story: She’s an immigrant entrepreneur who has made the impossible possible!
“Being a young woman with no capital and no connections in a traditional business environment resulted in lots of rejections and no’s initially. However, I felt I only had one option and that was to push forward,” Nooshin recalls.
Nooshin founded her technology startup, Optimum, to provide innovative and practical technology solutions to the local and national communities. Even though the Houston’s Oil & Gas market and overall economy was hurting during the initial years of the company, Optimum still managed to grow stronger and larger every year, meeting and exceeding its revenue and annual goals.
Now, she employs a team of talented professionals and counts several Fortune 500 companies and government agencies among her list of clients. Her experiences have given her valuable perspective and shaped her approach to work and life, and we are thrilled to share her story with you.
Read on for more about Nooshin.
PINK PETRO: What’s the biggest challenge you have faced, and how did you overcome it?
NOOSHIN: Being an immigrant woman, who didn’t speak much English initially, imposed a lot of challenges in my professional life when I first landed in the U.S. Although I had a bachelor’s degree in software engineering from a top technology university in middle east and had successfully founded and sold an IT company back in Turkey, the first job I landed in the U.S. was a cashier at Walmart.
That was when I quickly realized that most people vastly underestimate the intellectual potential of people from the poor, working class of the society. They assume a certain IQ and intellectual level with the people below their social rank and treat a cashier just as a lesser person. During my short time working as a cashier, however, I met so many amazing, intellectual men and women who were working hard at jobs below their potential because of difficult life circumstances.
But I didn’t come all the way to the U.S. to be a cashier for the rest of my life. So, I started applying for professional jobs, taking phone interviews from ladies’ restrooms during my lunch breaks. I got many rejections due to not being fluent in English and not having any prior work history in the U.S. Finally, the founder of a small, startup IT company decided to extend me a helping hand. He told me that he didn’t mind my English because he could see my talent with IT and programming. He said that one can always learn a new language in a couple of months, but nobody can teach someone “talent” and “passion”. To this day, I still appreciate what he did for me: the risky decision of hiring a 20-something-year-old girl who didn’t speak the language and putting her on some important projects and in a client facing role. I worked as hard as I could and became a superstar programmer at his company because I couldn’t allow myself to disappoint him!
That job changed my life. After few months of working at that company, I got admitted to graduate school to pursue my master’s in software engineering at SMU, Dallas, and started working full time during the day and went to school at nights. Until I was finally able to make one of my biggest dreams come true: starting and growing an IT company.
Now, it’s my turn to extend a helping hand! I work hard to help other women to have a better life and achieve their career goals through my business and volunteering work.
PP: What’s one mistake you made and what did you learn from it?
NY: Owning a small business means facing the risk of making mistakes and facing failure almost every day. There are many decisions that must be made quickly, and sometimes, the option to know all the facts and pros/cons just doesn’t exist. It is also difficult to stay calm and not panic when problems arise, and the consequences of failing are too much to deal with.
During my early years as a business owner, I sometimes made decisions out of the fear of failure or losing a business opportunity. Later, I learned that decisions out of desperation or fear never lead to winning at the end. Now, this is one of my favorite quotes: “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela
PP: What’s been the most rewarding part of your career?
NY: Founding and growing my company in the US, which I started with only a few dollars as the starting equity. I still remember the look on the banker’s face when he asked me, passionately, how much money I’d like to deposit into my brand-new business account and I handed him $25.
This was also around the time when Houston’s oil and gas market crashed, and corporations started canceling projects and stopped spending. People looked at me with compassion when I told them that I’m starting a brand-new company in such a depressed market. This was also when I realized the world of business, especially in the energy industry, seem to be male-dominated, and survival in this market depends on many vital factors — especially being connected to an exclusive network of business movers and shakers, which not surprisingly, wasn’t immediately accessible to an immigrant woman like me. All the odds were against me.
I felt I only had one option, and that was to push forward. I stopped thinking about the capital funds that I didn’t have and the people I didn’t know; rather I started meeting new people and making new connections who appreciated my passion and capabilities and weren’t concerned about where I was from. I also started finding creative ways to do business with little money.
After having my share of failures, bruises, and wins, I was finally able to significantly grow the company’s size and revenue and on-board and retain multiple clients, including some Fortune 500 corporations as well as local and state government agencies.
I’m proud of this journey and the fact that Optimum has created jobs for a number of professional women, men, and college students.
I have a passion for founding businesses that support technology, innovation, and digital transformation to help advance our local and national communities. I believe the world is a better place with more humanity + technology!
We will be celebrating our next class of GRIT Award winners on Oct. 3. Join us — in person in Houston or for the livestream!