Steven G. Mihaylo, founder of Inter-Tel Inc., CEO and chairman of Crexendo Inc., and namesake of the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics, spoke to business students at the monthly Leadership Scholars meeting on March 20. Mihaylo encouraged business students to strive for greatness, drawing upon his personal entrepreneurial success.
“If you expect great things, you will achieve great things,” Steven Mihaylo ’69 told business students at the March meeting of the Leadership Scholars. “All of you are leaders in this room; it is so important that if you are given a chance for leadership that you take it.”
From Newspaper Boy to Telecommunications Titan
Mihaylo, namesake of the business college and its state-of-the-art facilities due to his multimillion-dollar gifts, related his life story to the audience. Born in Los Angeles during World War II, the 71-year-old’s first job was delivering 30 newspapers per day at age nine. Through tenacity and commitment, the young Mihaylo was soon delivering nearly 400 newspapers on his route. “I feel very fortunate for my life experiences,” he said. “You can either look at the glass half empty or half full – I looked at it as half full.”
Following several years of service in the U.S. Army in the 1960s, Mihaylo worked for the Bell System, the forerunner of today’s AT&T, a telephone conglomerate often called “Ma Bell” that at the time dominated the American telecommunications industry. He also applied himself to his higher education, graduating at CSU Fullerton with a bachelor’s in accounting and finance in 1969, completing the four-year program in two years.
Decades later, Mihaylo would give back to his alma mater when approached by Dean Anil Puri about fundraising for a proposed building project. He would donate the largest single alumnus gift in CSUF history.
Mihaylo moved to Phoenix to found Inter-Tel, which grew from a sole proprietorship to a global company with 2,500 employees. A leader in communication technologies, Inter-Tel telephones, processors, software and managed services would be used by hundreds of thousands of corporate customers around the world.
Seeking a new challenge, Mihaylo was appointed CEO of Crexendo Inc., a cloud computing communications enterprise at the forefront of the digital revolution, in 2008. Under Mihaylo’s leadership, the company will soon debut a downloadable Web application permitting voice, video, one-digit dialing and instant messaging anywhere in the world. “A telephone call going over the internet actually goes faster than a call over the old copper wires,” he said.Mihaylo recalled that his company began manufacturing at low cost, permitting its exponential growth, when he learned Japanese from a Berlitz book and traveled to Japan to interview potential manufacturers. By the early 1980s, the company had gone public. Yet the company’s founder owned an ever-smaller percentage of his company. In 2006, the Inter-Tel board of directors bought out Mihaylo, who at the time owned 19% of the enterprise.
Mihaylo on Servant Leadership
Mihaylo credits his success to his tenacity, commitment and work ethic. He recommends the advice of J. Douglas Edwards, author of The Foundations of Modern Selling, for sales training. “He’s the best sales trainer that has ever lived,” Mihaylo said. He also recommends that business students read the biographies of inspiring historical figures. “History repeats itself; human nature has not changed in the last 30,000 years, and don’t expect it to change anytime soon,” he reminded students.
“I love serving people,” Mihaylo told his audience. “If you put other people first in your life, the result will be success, because people do business with people who serve.”
Mihaylo also stressed the importance of ethics in success. “Whatever you do, make sure you do it ethically and morally, without cutting corners,” he said.
At the conclusion of the event, Mihaylo answered questions from the audience and from Jay Barbuto, director of the Center for Leadership, the sponsor of the visit. “Even though you might be afraid, push through fears and do it anyway,” he responded to a question about what he wishes he knew as a college student nearly 50 years ago.
Mihaylo then mixed with students and posted for a group photograph next to his statue in the Mihaylo Courtyard and individual student photos.
For more information about Steven Mihaylo, visit his website, which discusses his business and philanthropic activities. For more information on the Leadership Scholars, which brings engaging and informative speakers to campus each month for its student members, visit their website or stop by the Center for Leadership at SGMH 5357.