Alum Rises Above the Rest Without a Safety NetDuring one of his FDU classes, Paul Lewis, BS'90 (F-M), listened with fascination as a guest speaker discussed the growth of his business and his more than $300,000 worth of sales. "It was very inspiring. I thought, 'if only I could build a business with that much in sales.'"
Fast forward about a decade and Lewis' computer network support firm, MC2 Microsystems, Inc., has surpassed that "modest" goal nearly 25 times over, with about $7 million in sales and approximately 700 clients on five continents. In 1995, Lewis was named the Small Business Administration's Young Entrepreneur of the Year for New Jersey and for National Region II, which includes the greater metropolitan area. And, he was invited to the White House in recognition of his accomplishments. But is the 30-year-old entrepreneur content to rest on his laurels? Hardly. Instead, he's working even longer days and talking about continued expansion and serving greater numbers of international clients.
Lewis hasn't always aspired to such lofty heights. But fate and initiative combined to launch his storybook rise to success. In his sophomore year at FDU he was enrolled in a computer programming course. He had just finished an assignment on data filing and indexing when he entered a video rental store and noticed the clerk using index cards to keep his records. "It suddenly clicked for me how these assignments could be used for real-life applications." So Lewis went home and slightly modified his homework. The very next day, he demonstrated for the owner how the program could help his business. "The owner asked a question that changed my life. He asked, 'How much do you want for it?' It had never occurred to me that I could make money from this."
Lewis then plunged his life savings, $200, into business cards and an answering machine. "At the time, I thought it was a great way to earn some extra spending money. I had no idea it could grow so big." Lewis did it all, from designing the software to marketing the products. As he neared the end of his college studies, he looked for ways to improve his business and leadership abilities. He took a job as a resident assistant "to learn to become a better manager" and began working at the computer lab in Dreyfuss Hall, using his spare moments to fine-tune his programming skills.
The firm's emphasis later shifted from developing software to servicing computer networks. Despite the heavy proliferation of computer networks, users had no resource to provide the support and expertise to keep their systems operative. This is where Lewis' company comes in. "Quickly, we were able to find a lot of networks that needed help." By the time he had graduated college, sales totals topped $1 million and he had hired his first employees and opened an office in Warren, N.J.
In 1994, the company was cited as one of the fastest growing companies in the country by Inc. Magazine. New offices then opened in New York and Los Angeles. (Heading west coast operations is fellow FDU graduate Joseph Gruenling, BS'90 [F-M].) And offices are planned for Dallas, Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, Munich and Singapore. With approximately 50 employees, Lewis is now removed from development and sales. Instead, he focuses on the strategic direction of the company and helps close major deals.
Lewis also works hard to create new products and services. One example is the "SafetyNET" program, which monitors client computer networks 24 hours a day. This unique program is so sophisticated it can pinpoint the exact date a certain network will malfunction and can even correct many problems on its own. Other exciting new products are in the design stage, says Lewis, "If I can think it, my engineers can build it."
Lewis, too, is adept at building things. He loves assembling radio-controlled model planes and cars. And he's become a skilled auto mechanic after rebuilding a 1976 MG Midget and restoring it to mint condition. "I enjoy working with my hands. It exercises your mind in a different way."
As an FDU student, Lewis was not only inspired by guest lecturers but by faculty members like David Lubliner, former assistant professor of computer science. In turn, he now hopes to motivate others. He is a frequent speaker at FDU's George Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies and also has written for one of its newsletters. "I'm a firm believer in the Institute and its work. And the students are fun to talk to. They have a lot of energy and excitement." And perhaps one of those students will think about how incredible it would be to reach for Lewis' success and be encouraged to start the dream of a lifetime. -A.C.
Writer's Success Written in the StarsFor James T. Kirk and the crew members aboard the starship Enterprise, space was indeed the final frontier, but for writer Dorothy Fontana, AA'59 (R), it was just the beginning of a rocket-like ride to prominence in Tinseltown.
Fontana, a writer and story editor for the original "Star Trek" voyages, also played a key role in the animated version of the series and helped launch "Star Trek: The Next Generation." And non-Trekkies will recognize her work as well. Her more than 100 television scripts include ones for "The Six Million Dollar Man," "The Waltons," "Dallas" and "Lonesome Dove." In addition, she has written three novels, helped develop a comic book and created an interactive computer game. Television viewers this fall can catch her latest work on the ABC children's series "Hypernauts," and she is about to produce a television series in Canada, "The Star Wolf," which is set in familiar territory for her, outer space.
Using the expertise gained as an executive secretarial major at FDU, Fontana started by working in New York City with a television company and then in Los Angeles for a television series. This provided her the contacts that led to the sale of her first script in 1960. Later, she became executive secretary for Gene Roddenberry, who was trying to sell a pilot about a starship's adventures. When "Star Trek" debuted in 1966, Roddenberry knew he had a creative person close at hand. Fontana seized the opportunity. She was a writer for 10 episodes, including two of the most popular shows, "This Side of Paradise" and "Journey to Babel," and also served as story editor during the first and second seasons. Though the crew of the Enterprise embarked on a five-year mission, "Star Trek" was canceled after its third season. But, through reruns, the program developed a tremendous following.
After continuing as a free-lance writer, Fontana was asked by Roddenberry to be the story editor and associate producer for the animated "Star Trek," which debuted in 1973. The show ran for two seasons, but Fontana left after the first. "If you stay on a series too long, you can get in a rut. The advantage of writing free-lance is that you can look at all these characters with a fresh set of eyes."
When plans for a new Trek series blossomed in the mid-1980s, Fontana was again called. "The concept had to be reworked. It was a challenge to appeal to those who wanted the old 'Star Trek' and those who wanted something new." With Fontana as associate producer (she also was a writer on four of the first year's episodes), "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was an immediate success.
Fontana later left that series to continue her free-lance career, and recently enjoyed one of her most satisfying experiences writing three scripts for the science fiction series "Babylon 5." Unlike some programs, "Babylon 5" welcomes the writers on the set and seeks their input during production. "The open door was quite a treat. Often, writers don't get to see their work come to life."
While Fontana has had many career highlights, she takes particular pride in having boldly gone where no woman has gone before, when she became the first female writer for QM Productions. Headed by Quinn Martin, the company specialized in action and adventure series. "It's always been difficult for women to be accepted in this genre," Fontana says. When the company bought her first of four scripts for "The Streets of San Francisco," it requested that her credit read "Dorothy C. Fontana," rather than her trademark D.C. Fontana, to make it clear it had employed a women writer. "It was the only time I allowed that."
Whether she's writing about alien encounters or detectives, Fontana focuses on exploring relationships between family members, friends and lovers. "No matter what the subject is, you have to write about people."
Her own very special relationship is with her husband Dennis Skotak, a three-time Oscar winner for special visual effects for the movies "Aliens," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and "The Abyss." The couple love to travel, having recently journeyed to England, Scotland, New Zealand and Hawaii. Fontana also enjoys decorative painting, photography, horseback riding, roller skating and reading. In addition, she is an active member of the Writers' Guild of America.
While her writing skills are largely self-taught, Fontana credits two FDU professors with playing a big role in her development, Dr. Eileen Costello Balassi, professor emeritus of management, and the late Arnold Catena, former assistant professor of business administration. And, she says, FDU's liberal arts requirements "gave me a good background and insight into human relations."
That background and insight will continue to influence her storylines as she looks for even bigger achievements. Besides the chance to produce her first series, she has several movie scripts being marketed. With her talent and enthusiasm, odds are good she will "live long and prosper." -A.C.
Human Rights Activist Stands Up for Those SilencedHe's drawn the anger of the powerful, including a United States president and repressive regimes throughout the world, but Reed Brody, BA'74 (F-M), remains persistent in his defense of human rights. "To help, in some small way, those who are struggling and dying for their rights is very gratifying. Those of us in free countries have an obligation to speak out against oppression and to help those working to bring justice to their societies." Brody has used his legal training and commitment to social justice to combat human rights violations nearly everywhere on the globe. His work with the United Nations (UN), with human rights groups and on his own has brought him to strife-torn countries from Cambodia to Nicaragua.
Brody is currently in Haiti, helping its government to prosecute military and paramilitary agents who killed thousands following the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. "It's a slow process. The Haitian justice system is very weak, and many people are afraid to come forward." In February, Brody appeared before a U.S. congressional panel to request the return of 160,000 key documents seized by U.S. troops in Haiti, which could shed light on these crimes - "as well as on the United States' complicity in them."
In addition to investigating human rights crimes, Brody is active in publicizing these abuses and demonstrating against their perpetrators. For instance, working on behalf of the International Campaign for Tibet, Brody secretly did some "modest fact finding" in Chinese-occupied Tibet and helped disseminate news of a recent wave of arrests. Then, he accompanied and advised exiled Tibetan women attending the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing. "We held a silent demonstration on Chinese soil to symbolize how Tibetan women have been silenced." Photos of the gagged women were on newspaper front pages around the world.
Brody also recently has traveled to East Timor, a country, like Tibet, occupied by a foreign force (Indonesia). Posing as a tourist, Brody attempted to take part in a commemoration at the site of a 1991 massacre. Though Brody did get to report on escalating police violence, he was expelled for "provocative activities" and the commemoration was prevented. At one point, he was encircled by riot police. It wasn't the first time he's faced such a threat. "I've been scared at times but I usually believe they realize it would be counterproductive to their cause to harm me."
Brody has not only angered foreign authorities but, in 1984, in what would prove a defining moment in his career, he provoked the wrath of President Ronald Reagan. Brody was pursuing his legal career working in the New York attorney general's office when he accompanied a colleague on a visit to Nicaragua, where the United States was arming contra rebels to overthrow the Sandinista government. "We met people who had survived terrorist attacks by the contras on unarmed civilians. I felt an enormous sense of responsibility to tell people in the United States what was being done in our name."
So Brody quit his job and, with his own money, spent five months in the war zones of Nicaragua, taking hundreds of sworn testimonies about contra atrocities against civilians. Brody's subsequent report received front-page coverage in The New York Times, only two weeks after the president had described the contras as the moral equivalent of America's founding fathers. It also led to congressional hearings at which he testified. "The report changed the debate and focused attention on the terrorism we were sponsoring."
Reagan reacted by lashing out at Brody, calling him a "Sandinista sympathizer," and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, then aide to the national security adviser, orchestrated a campaign attempting to discredit Brody. But, Brody proudly recalls, "they never directly challenged the report's information."
For the next two years, he concentrated on Central America before joining the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, Switzerland, as executive secretary and UN representative. His lobbying pushed the UN toward a tougher stance against abusive governments such as those in Haiti, Iraq and Indonesia. He also assisted the government of Mongolia with the drafting of its constitution. "This was one of my most rewarding experiences. The Mongolians were earnest about creating democratic structures and were receptive to our suggestions. They adopted a very good constitution, which is proving effective in upholding human rights."
From 1992 to 1994, Brody was executive director of the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington, D.C. There he led a program to train front-line human rights advocates. "The long-term solution is to empower local people to stand up for themselves and challenge power." The principal pilot project was in Cambodia where, following a UN-brokered peace settlement, Brody's organization helped train four new human rights groups.
The United Nations then asked Brody to direct the Human Rights Division
of its peacekeeping mission in El Salvador. With a staff of 32 human rights
and police observers, he was responsible for verifying respect for human
rights, monitoring compliance with peace accords and coordinating programs
to support El Salvador's democratic institutions. The venture is considered
one of the recent UN success stories.
Brody says he knew he wanted to "make a difference" since his collegiate days at FDU, when he was president of the Student Government Association on the Florham-Madison Campus and a student representative to the Board of Trustees. In addition, he was a leader in anti-war demonstrations and worked in several election races including the 1972 George McGovern presidential campaign and the 1974 congressional bid of FDU assistant professor of history and political science Bernard Reiner. "I feel lucky to have grown up when more people believed in their ability to change the world."
Brody was influenced by several FDU professors but none more than his father, Dr. Ervin Brody, a Hungarian Jew who escaped from a German labor camp, fought with Tito's partisan forces and became a journalist and then a teacher. The elder Brody, a longtime FDU professor of languages and former chair of the language department on the Florham-Madison Campus, is professor emeritus of languages.
His son was torn between law and journalism, but decided on law because he felt it would offer more opportunities to effect social change. Brody graduated from Columbia University Law School, and then traveled through Europe and Latin America before beginning his career. Though traveling was his favorite hobby, today it's part of his livelihood. So now, when he has time for himself, he'd rather "sit in the woods by a stream and read a book."
But when you're fighting the powerful there's little time to sit still. "The most important thing is to make governments and individuals accountable for their human rights abuses. I want to be where I can work with people to bring these crimes to light." -A.C.