Business revolutionary

Technology changes so quickly, the old joke goes, that as soon as the computer hits the store shelves, it’s obsolete. While that may be frustrating for the average consumer, it’s not exactly easy for the businesses that manufacture the complicated parts populating your PC’s innards, either.

"One thing never that changes is that you have to change," says Subramonian Shankar, president and CEO of American Megatrends Inc. "That means I find that, as a company, we have to keep reinventing ourselves as technology changes, and not only the technology, but also the business conditions."

American Megatrends makes a habit of reinventing itself as it tries to stay ahead of the ever-evolving world of technology. A casual read of articles and press releases about AMI reveals how its core expertise changes every few years. At various times in its existence, it has focused on motherboard design, BIOS and RAID Controllers. AMI’s next venture is storage.

But it was the motherboard design, and another then-small-business man, that nearly put AMI on the map. A 1985 technology conference brought Shankar together with Michael Dell, who at the time was interested in Intel’s new 386 chip. The meeting led to a contract, and AMI spent seven months working on a 386 motherboard design for Dell Computer, then known as PCs Ltd.

"At that time, he didn’t have any engineers in the company," Shankar says of Dell. "He had about 100 employees; he was a $40 million, $50 million company. He was just low-balling pricing.

"Michael is not an easy person to work with — extremely difficult. During the seven months I worked on the project, Michael was very, very close to me. I was probably the first engineer inside Dell."

But the deal that might have sent AMI into the stratosphere was not to be. Another consultant was working on a 286 motherboard product for Dell at the same time.

"That consultant somehow managed to convince Michael that PCs Ltd. should not be the first company with a 386 product. So even though we finished designing the 386, Michael did not announce the 386 motherboard."

And although Dell cancelled AMI’s contract when he decided not to be the first to introduce the 386 computer, he appreciated Shankar’s work.

"At the end of the project, Michael wanted to hire me and have me join his company, which I didn’t want to do because I had started a design company. I wanted to see it through. I said, ‘Michael, no. That’s not why I came to Austin. I want to continue to do design work.’"

Smart Business Atlanta spoke with Shankar to learn how he keeps his operation on the cutting edge.