Write For Us

Advertise

A Conversation with Telamon Corp. CEO, Stanley Chen, Telamon CAO & President of Robotics, Stephanie Kim and Telamon Founder, Albert Chen

Business Spotlight

Stan, could you tell us about your career journey and how you landed up leading Telamon Corp?

Stan:

All throughout high school and most of college, my plan was to be an attorney. I was fascinated by law, and going down this path of attending law school. But at the same time, growing up in a family business, a lot of people would ask, “Are you going to go into the family business? Following your parents footsteps?” I was actually less interested in doing the family business because of those questions. It may have seemed like too much pressure or too much expectation. It was really the senior year of college as I was going through law school applications that I got partly a little lazy and said, You know what? Why don’t I try out the family business for a couple of years, and then I can cross it off the list, and I’ll know that it wasn’t for me.

I came into the family business, and it turns out that I really enjoyed it. I was less drawn to the industry itself but was truly captivated by the strategic and financial aspects. Being able to work in these areas within the business was genuinely fascinating. The longer I worked, the more interested I became, and ultimately, after several years, I decided that this was something I wanted to pursue long-term. Following six years of experience, I furthered my education by enrolling in business school. During this period, I still contemplated law school and seminary, but it was the journey through higher education and those two transformative years in business school that solidified my unwavering commitment to the world of business and my desire to continue at Telamon.

What does it feel like to sit in the same seat your father sat in? How has your leadership been different? 

Stan:

Stepping into a position previously held by someone as accomplished can be an intimidating challenge, especially when that individual has been a lifelong source of inspiration. However, just like any professional’s career trajectory, the process of maturation involves learning to trust your instincts, embracing the lessons learned from personal mistakes, and evolving into a more refined and capable professional. As I’ve matured, I’ve gained confidence in making decisions that may diverge from my father’s approach. Early on, he and I maintained open communication, which occasionally led to differing viewpoints. Ultimately, he entrusted me with the responsibility of making the final calls. Some decisions yielded positive outcomes, while others were learning experiences. Throughout this journey, my family, including my sister and mother, provided great support, regardless of the outcome. This has created an environment encouraging continuous improvement and growth.

I think a lot of people who start out in the family business do that as a starting point and then move on. What about what you’re trying to grow has led you to stay? 

Stan:

I think both from a family standpoint, and then this is true for me personally as well. I believe we all generally hold a long-term perspective. I believe that’s the part that’s really compelling. Our vision statement is to be a load-bearing support across generations. The idea of being able to be a part of that legacy, continuing to build something, have something that is better off when you leave it than when you started it, and see that continue across generations is really exciting to me. Additionally, there’s a fun aspect of being able to look at something as a 20, 30, 40-year horizon. I often tell people that I am the turtle, not the hare – slow and steady over long distances, that’s my approach. I believe that’s what Telamon is shaping up to be.

Stephanie, could you tell us a little bit more about your career journey, as well as about being President of the Foundation?

Stephanie:

Well, similar to Stan, I never really had an interest in the family business, just because we were always around it. When we were growing up as kids, our parents were working hard, trying to establish a new legacy for themselves and for their family. They had to dedicate so many hours of their day just to achieve that. I feel that , as a child, both Stan and I were always at the family business, taking the trash out or doing some filing… Just being in that environment all the time pushed me away from wanting to pursue it. Unlike Stan wanting to be in law or being interested in it , I was more inclined towards science. I thought I was going to become a mad scientist, wearing a white research coat in a lab, working on experiments or something like that. However, when I got to college and took my first chemistry class, I quickly realized this is definitely not for me. I changed tracks quickly.

I attended a liberal arts school, and business wasn’t a viable option for me. I pursued the closest thing to business at the time, which was economics. I really enjoyed those classes, and that’s how I ended up here. I didn’t work for Telamon straight out of school, I started as a cruncher at GTE, which was a telecom giant, now Verizon. I got my feet wet there. Then I went back to grad school, and I’ve been at Telamon since then. 

As for the foundation, I love being involved in the community. I’ve always been engaged in numerous philanthropic activities. My primary interests are in the Arts. I don’t actually know why because I’m not an artist, nor do I have a very artistic bone in my body. I’ve always enjoyed the performing arts and being a patron of the arts. I found a couple of opportunities to get involved here when I moved back in 2006. From there, it grew, and we started expanding into basic needs and helping the community instead of just being focused on arts. Due to my involvement in the community, we were able, through some of Stan’s brainchild, to start the foundation and be able to funnel different philanthropic funds into the community through our foundation.

I know that you’ve just awarded some scholarships. What are some of the success stories of the impact of the foundation?

Stephanie: It’s been a journey for the foundation as well. When the foundation first started, we used to offer open funding, allowing organizations to apply for funds. As the foundation grew in strength and tenure, managing it became increasingly challenging due to the high volume of applications from various types of organizations. The foundation has no employees, and I serve as its president without receiving any compensation. I handled this responsibility in addition to my roles at Telamon. Carmen, my assistant, can vouch for the difficulty of filtering through hundreds of funding applications. It was challenging because I tend to see every organization as deserving, like a little animal I want to protect. Making decisions about where to allocate funds became increasingly difficult. 

Albert, Stan, and I would review all these applications. I would create an executive summary of them all, and then we would rank them. From the top five or ten, we would scrutinize them closely and choose the ones that best aligned with Telamon’s mission, vision, and our community spending goals. It has evolved since then. We are now at a point where we can be more selective, and we no longer accept external applications. We have identified numerous philanthropies that closely align with Telamon’s mission and vision through our extensive process. We invite them to apply for funds.

Additionally, we have another aspect of the foundation where we support our employees’ philanthropic desires. They can request matching funds for their contributions or volunteer efforts. The foundation matches funds up to a certain amount for these organizations. We also have a third facet of the foundation that caters to our business unit leaders. Given our diverse business operations, we allocate a portion of funds to support their philanthropic initiatives, which may be local or national. 

Editor:

It’s good to hear about the other parts of the foundation’s giving. Throughout the years, what’s one impact story that’s near and dear to your heart?

Stephanie:

We aim to focus not only on funding but also on volunteerism. So there are two aspects that are particularly important to us. United Way is one organization that our business has been actively involved with for decades. We not only make corporate contributions but also run an annual campaign for our employees to contribute, as it directly benefits the local community. Since we have locations in various areas, and the funds generated in these locations stay in those respective areas. This means that money isn’t always directed to Indiana, especially for our employees who reside outside this area. Instead, it supports the local communities where they live.

Another key area of focus is education, which is of great importance to our family. Stan serves on the board of KIPP, a school on the near eastside. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we provided numerous volunteer opportunities for our employees to engage in classroom activities such as reading to or tutoring children. This time was given to our employees for free, and as an organization, we also made contributions to KIPP to enhance the classroom experience. 

Stan, what about you? Why do you think it’s important for us to invest in the community?

Stan:

I believe our family and this company truly embody many aspects of the American dream. Both of our parents were first-generation immigrants who came to the United States for education to better themselves. They took a collective chance, coming together to start a business and put our house on the line. At the time, we didn’t fully realize the extent of the risk involved. It’s only as adults that we can truly appreciate the risk they undertook. Through a combination of grace and hard work, they were able to build a successful business. 

From the perspective of the Chen family, it’s abundantly clear that there is an opportunity and a responsibility to give back to the community and to pay it forward so that others can have similar opportunities and experiences.

This community has been incredibly supportive of our family, and we must do our part. As the saying goes, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” We must ensure that we are fulfilling our part in giving back to the community.

You’re a minority-owned organization, but you’re also one of the largest private companies in Indiana tell us more about the journey to Telemon’s success?

Stephanie:

I don’t necessarily think that is my story. Stan may disagree; perhaps he feels like he plays a bigger part in that narrative. It’s simply a matter of good fortune that we are the children of an entrepreneur. Some may argue that we were destined for this, given that our father had the vision to establish this organization, and we have the privilege of carrying it forward.

Stan:

Yes, I think that’s fair. One of the things we discuss, and it’s also one of our core values, is stewardship. This concept of stewardship involves taking care of something that isn’t technically your own but caring for it as if it were. From our perspective, Stephanie and I are now in the role of continuing to steward this asset. As we mentioned before, our goal is for it to continue across generations and serve as an asset that supports not only our Chen family but also our customers, employees, and the broader community for many years to come. It’s a role we have to fulfill, and much of this was modeled by our parents. 

Listening to Stephanie express her desire to take care of all potential grant applicants, it was almost like hearing our mother speaking. It’s evident how family values are passed down and how we pick up traits and values from our parents. It’s fascinating that we are playing our part in this system, just one part of many, and hopefully, there will be numerous chapters to this story. We’ll fulfill our role for as long as God gives us the opportunity.

Rural connectivity has been a hot topic of discussion lately, ensuring that everyone gets connected. What role is Telamon playing in the national efforts to ensure rural connectivity?

Stan:

We have a fantastic opportunity to support these efforts. Our customer base mainly comprises national carriers who also play a role in rural connectivity. Additionally, regional carriers are involved in deploying networks in these areas. For the most part, if you work in this industry, you understand that the economics are challenging when it comes to deploying a network in sparsely populated and low-density areas. That’s why there’s significant value in securing federal funding and stimulus dollars for these regions. Typically, these funds are allocated to carriers, whether national or regional, enabling them to finance network construction and deployment in areas they might not have considered otherwise. When they embark on these projects, they turn to companies like Telemon for support. Consequently, we provide our usual services to these customers, which include network design, network engineering, integration, deployment, installation, and other related services. This is made possible by the additional funding allocated to support these initiatives.

Editor:

The company had its 40th anniversary in July. What can people expect to see in the next 10 years of Telamon?

Stan:

Well, hopefully a lot of growth. We have traditionally expanded into a lot of different areas, but what you’ll see is a contraction but more dollars being funded or spent in areas where we have had a lot of success, to double down in those areas, so to speak. Hopefully, you’ll see a lot more of us in some narrower fields.

One interesting aspect I’ve noticed, and as I mentioned before, it’s common to see your parents’ characteristics in yourself and your siblings. I believe this holds generally true. However, one difference that aligns with the company’s evolution is that our father, as Stephanie mentioned, is a classic entrepreneur. He has a penchant for embracing new ideas and pursuing opportunities, which energizes him, and he excels at it. 

In contrast, neither Stephanie nor I share that trait. We have a different approach. We tend to focus more on taking a single concept, refining it, nurturing its growth, and scaling it. This shift in focus aligns with the company’s growth. It typically starts with an entrepreneur who possesses boundless energy and drive. As certain aspects of the business begin to gain traction, the question becomes, “How do we scale and make it sustainable?” It’s fortunate that this aligns with our personalities and how we operate, and it’s also suitable for the company’s current stage of development.

You recently announced a deal with Verizon. Can you tell us more about that?

Stan: 

We have an exciting opportunity to expand into new areas. Historically, our focus has revolved around traditional network equipment, such as routers and switches and Ethernet equipment, optical equipment. These are the components that underpin the networks we use, although as consumers, we rarely see or interact with them directly. They play a crucial role in supporting our network connections, even if we may not be intimately familiar with them.

Now, we are making a foray into more consumer-facing devices. Initially, our distribution efforts will center around handsets and phones that you and I use daily. However, this is just the beginning, and there’s a wealth of opportunities beyond this initial step. There are some nuances to consider. The volume in the consumer device market is significantly higher. In the United States, for example, millions of phones are shipped annually, whereas only thousands of routers or switches are distributed. This increased volume comes with a degree of reduced complexity. When we work on the network side, we often deal with configuration, software, and testing. In contrast, working with phones will be more straightforward. This shift represents a transition for us, albeit a related one that brings us into the consumer-facing market. We are genuinely excited to see how this unfolds.

Stephanie, tell us about Telamon Robotics, the future is robotics and AI. What’s one thing you’re working on right now that you feel will have the most impact?

Stephanie:

It ties very closely to what we do on the telecommunications side of things, which involves IoT (the Internet of Things) and the integration of machines and technology into the network. In Indiana specifically, we’re aiming to integrate this technology into manufacturing. Given the significant number of small and medium-sized manufacturers in the state, we are striving to advance their capabilities and provide them with affordable automation through technology. 

Often, for these small to medium-sized businesses, technology can be cost-prohibitive. However, in the case of Telamon Robotics, being a collaborative robot, the price point is much lower. We offer a payback calculator on our website, and, in general, the payback period is less than one year.

Editor:

Sustainability and environmental responsibility are becoming increasingly important. How does Telemon integrate sustainable practices into its operations?

Stephanie:

It has been a gradual metamorphosis over time. Naturally, the easier aspects are addressed first, so to speak. We’ve made efforts to implement those immediately. However, we are currently developing our ESG plan, which is a substantial undertaking. Some requirements are mandated by our largest customers and need to be integrated into our master plan. I would say that it’s still a work in progress, but we are working diligently on it.

You’ve been recognized as a US best managed company. What management philosophies or strategies underpin, one, your success, but what advice would you give to minority run businesses that are looking to scale in a similar fashion?

Stan:

One of the things we’ve implemented, which Albert put in place many years ago, is that even though we are a private company, we strive to adopt several practices typical of public companies. The rationale behind this is not because we’re aiming to go public or anything of that sort, but it’s because these practices exist for good reason, and they promote proper governance. We want to ensure that our company follows these practices as well.

Consider something as basic as having regular audits conducted and establishing proper separation of duties and controls. Many of these best practices are rooted in common sense, but they are also influenced by observing how other companies operate. By holding ourselves to a higher standard and viewing ourselves as a company that needs to be accountable to shareholders, even if all the shareholders are family members, we aim to foster accountability. Our hope is that decades from now, there will be more shareholders, and they may still all be family, but now you’re talking about cousins, and even second cousins. Thus, it’s essential to ensure that everyone feels comfortable, knowing that no one is engaging in any impropriety and that everything is done by the book.

Albert set us on this path many years ago to establish these practices and proper governance, and we’ve been diligently executing on that. Steph has done a fantastic job driving this process, not only to ensure that we are recognized for it but also to achieve the awards we have received.

Stephanie:

The flip side of that coin is that, in addition to the governance structure we have in place, because we are, I would say, a smaller privately held company, we are able to offer some employee benefits and perks that other companies may be unable to provide. This award recognizes the best managed private companies, and we stand out because of these little perks we offer. For instance, we provide employee scholarships, not just through the foundation, but in general. These scholarships are available for children from first grade through college, and they are awarded twice a year based on report cards. All a child needs to do is be the offspring of an employee. The employee can submit their child’s school transcript, and if it’s a GPA of 3.5 and above, they receive a certain dollar amount. If it’s in the range of 3.0 to 3.5, they receive another dollar amount. As I mentioned, education is of utmost importance to our family and our company. This is just one of the ways we instill our values into our employees as an integral part of our Telamon family. 

As a family business, you spoke about sitting at a meeting and you’re surrounded by family. How do you manage boundaries?

Stephanie:

Stan probably does a much better job of this than I do. I feel that conversation can be fluid. However, this approach doesn’t always work well in every environment because there are times when I might forget. At the dinner table, for instance, I might inadvertently bring up a work-related topic because I see you, and I associate you with work. Conversely, when I’m at the office and I see you, even though you’re family, I might bring up a personal matter. For me, it’s a bit more challenging. I’ve had to be very mindful of where I am, the context I’m in, and the type of conversation I should have. In this regard, Stan is much more skilled than I am.

Stan:

I believe that there are a couple of different things I can share with you. I can recall having a conversation with Steph, which must have been around a decade ago by now, where I asked if it would be okay not to discuss business when we’re at a family gathering. She agreed. Perhaps it wasn’t as much in her nature, and it may have been more in my nature, but she was incredibly accommodating and respectful about it. 

Honestly, I don’t recall it coming up again when we’ve been at a family event for her to bring up a business matter. Given that we regularly see each other in the office and can discuss business matters there, we’ve implemented the concept of proper governance and established the right infrastructure for it. We’ve arranged family meetings that effectively function as family shareholder meetings, including Steph’s husband and my wife as well. These meetings occur quarterly, just like our board meetings with external board directors. During these sessions, we provide a business update, and we also discuss business matters that might impact the shareholders. At times, it may be personal topics within the family.

I remember that when I first heard about this concept, it felt somewhat contrived. However, having engaged in this practice for several years now, I’ve come to appreciate the tremendous value it offers. It ensures that there is a formal, structured time to address matters that everyone knows should be discussed but often never get around to. It provides a safe platform for these dialogues. I believe it also serves as an outlet for us to have some of those conversations.

Editor:

My last question for both of you, how has your ethnic background influenced your growth and leadership?

Stan:

From my perspective, there are always very specific nuances to the minority experience, influenced not only by one’s ethnicity but also by the environment they find themselves in. Both of us grew up in a situation in Indiana 40 years ago, where diversity was limited, especially for the Asian community. In a way, this situation might have accelerated the process of becoming comfortable in your own skin. As you grow old enough to recognize differences or hear dissonant comments, you begin to question and understand these nuances. Moreover, part of the process involves integrating these differences with societal expectations. 

As an Asian man, there is a strong sense of respect and hierarchy, valuing the wisdom of elders. However, these values may conflict with current expectations, especially when you’re trying to make a name for yourself and advance your career. To stand out, you might need to be more assertive and draw attention to yourself. These aspects can be at odds, but everyone goes through the journey of self-discovery, understanding what it means for them.

For me personally, there will always be an element of deference to my elders, which sometimes works against me. However, it’s an important value for me, and there’s also value in it. You can leverage it to learn from those who’ve come before you and build relationships with mentors. Ultimately, these aspects are double-edged swords, and you must navigate how to harness your personality as strengths in your environment.

Stephanie:

For me, it’s a very interesting balance, one between Eastern and Western cultures, which are very different. In Eastern culture, women have a different role than men, and while I don’t want to say women are considered lesser, there are distinct roles. In Western culture, especially now, it’s all about equality. Balancing these two aspects has been the focus of my life. 

As I’ve grown older and become a mother, the challenge becomes balancing parenting with a career. The question of whether you have to sacrifice something to excel at the other is complex, and the answer varies based on individual circumstances. It’s undeniably a balancing act, and it’s not easy.

My natural tendency is to want to shine and take on leadership roles. While this comes naturally to me, I have to balance it by doing what’s best for the environment I’m in. It’s important not to come across as too dominant or as if I know everything. In my current position alongside Stan, who is naturally more introverted than I am, I need to be mindful of allowing him to take the lead since he is the CEO of this company. I aim to play a supporting role in that context. It’s all part of the ongoing journey of personal growth as we navigate adulthood.

Editor:

What motivated you to start Telamon?

Albert:

I quit my job at GTE, so I was looking for something to do. Shortly thereafter, I stumbled on an opportunity to sell the key telephone system, due to the deregulation of the telecommunications industry.

Editor:

When you started, did you face any discrimination as an Asian business?

Albert:

I never thought about discrimination. I always framed it as either people like you or dislike you. If I was disliked, I never attributed it to discrimination.

Editor:

You are a minority-owned organization, but you are also one of the largest private companies in Indiana. Tell us a little bit more about the Telamon journey to success.

Albert:

We started in telecom. We had to know how to adapt to the new environment and technological changes. For example, with wireline we started with the mechanical switch then evolved to mechanical – electrical switch then to complete electronic switch. For wireless, we transitioned from microwave radio to 2G, 3G, 4G and now to 5G. This means all our engineers need to continuously retrain to keep pace with technology. Regardless of the business section you’re in, you must be aware of the new environment, new process, and new methodology to survive. When the dot.com bubble burst, I learned I needed to diversify, so we expanded into industrial solutions to target the Indiana manufacturing base. In 2015, we expanded into wire harness manufacturing. To be successful, I believe you need to focus on what the customer wants, provide a quality product, ensure 100% customer satisfaction, keep an eye on changes in technology, so you remain relevant in the ever-changing business environment.

Editor:

What values underpin Telamon’s core identity?

Albert:

H2S2 – honesty, harmony, simplicity, stewardship.

Editor:

What lessons have you learned in sustaining a successful business for 40 years?

Albert:

Be humble and willing to struggle. Listen to the customer’s and employee’s needs. They are important. Treat your employees fairly.

Latest

The Real Estate Industry’s Technological Evolution

Chanel Di Blasi Associate Crosbie Gliner Schiffman Southard & Swanson (CGS3) San...

Book Review – Linda Garcia Wealth Warrior

Wealth Warrior by Linda Garcia "The Wealth Warrior" by Linda...

Silver Tsunami: Navigating the Wave of Small Business Succession

Xavier Egan  President, Mergers & Acquisition Capital Asset Advisors Texas Small businesses are...

Building Strong Institutions

In an age defined by rapid change and uncertainty,...

Stay in touch

Be the first to know

- Advertisement -

Don't miss

The Real Estate Industry’s Technological Evolution

Chanel Di Blasi Associate Crosbie Gliner Schiffman Southard & Swanson (CGS3) San...

Book Review – Linda Garcia Wealth Warrior

Wealth Warrior by Linda Garcia "The Wealth Warrior" by Linda...

Silver Tsunami: Navigating the Wave of Small Business Succession

Xavier Egan  President, Mergers & Acquisition Capital Asset Advisors Texas Small businesses are...

Building Strong Institutions

In an age defined by rapid change and uncertainty,...

Sarah Ahmad

Sarah, CEO of CAQH, is a healthcare leader and...
- Advertisement -

The Real Estate Industry’s Technological Evolution

Chanel Di Blasi Associate Crosbie Gliner Schiffman Southard & Swanson (CGS3) San Diego The real estate sector is not immune to the digital revolution, which is impacting many...

Book Review – Linda Garcia Wealth Warrior

Wealth Warrior by Linda Garcia "The Wealth Warrior" by Linda Garcia is a rallying cry for those who have felt marginalized by the traditional avenues...

Silver Tsunami: Navigating the Wave of Small Business Succession

Xavier Egan  President, Mergers & Acquisition Capital Asset Advisors Texas Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, with 33.2 million small businesses accounting for 99.9% of...