By Aram Arkun
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Armenian Business Network (ABN) is a relatively new Armenian group based in Boston, Massachusetts. Founded in 2011, it has grown quickly and has close to 10,000 members now. It provides free mentoring and career advice to any Armenian who needs it. ABN is organizing a major career counseling event at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center (NERD) in Cambridge on February 20 for college students and young adults.
Jack Antounian is the founder of the group. He said, “The idea started as we were talking with friends about getting the Armenian youth involved, and helping them with their career paths. It stems back to my background. When I came to this country in 1976 [from Lebanon], I didn’t have a mentor and I learned things the hard way, concerning school and career selections. It was all trial and error.”
With a background in engineering, Antounian eventually achieved his career goals. He led various high-tech manufacturing companies and supply chains, and currently is vice president of Operations at Revolabs Inc. a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yamaha Corporation and premier provider of audio solutions for unified communications, enterprise collaboration, and professional audio applications across a wide range of markets.
Antounian said, “If you had a mentor, it would be a matter of selection instead of going into the unknown. If you secure a position in a well-established company or group, that can act as a springboard in your career, but that means that you have to have connections and contacts. Some of us are fortunate to have them but others don’t.”
ABN, he continued, helps Armenians “gain access to people’s knowledge, skill and connections. There is a level of trust that you need to build but ultimately the idea is to give and support without any expectations.”
Even before establishing ABN, Antounian tried to help some of his friends’ children by providing career advice and contacts through his professional network, and it worked. He said, “I thought, if that works, why not get others involved and help more kids.”
It started with helping college graduates secure positions out of school, either internships or jobs, but the economic downturn led to many professionals losing their jobs, and needing help to find new positions, while small businesses faced grave challenges too. They could use a boost with consultancy ideas, and guidance on better marketing and business management.
Aside from personal and business assistance and development, ABN tries to support various endeavors of the Armenian community.
To help its broad constituency, ABN organizes various types of events and programs. It prepares workshops in order to help small businesses, and has networking events once a quarter. Antounian said that average attendance at the latter is 150 people, and growing, with the last event attracting close to 200 people. They are held at Armenian-owned restaurants or hotels in the Boston area in order to also benefit Armenian businesses.
Antounian noted, “The nice thing about it is that we are a mosaic of our Armenian backgrounds and communities. Our members are from all types of different backgrounds, political, religious, and geographical. It is really beautiful.” The only requirement is to be Armenian, or to be “Armenian by choice.”
There are several types of programs to help individuals directly. Mentors can be found in relevant fields to provide guidance, while in the Champion-an-Armenian program, more intensive and continuous help is provided. Antounian said, “The ‘champion’ takes someone under his wings and guides him or her until the desired goal or result is reached, whereas the mentor provides direction, and stops until asked again.” Resumes or business plans can be reviewed and improved.
The information is kept confidential, and tracking, which must be on an anonymous basis, is not that extensively done, so Antounian could only estimate that roughly 20-30 individuals have used the Champion program, with a 60 to 70 percent success rate.
Antounian gave an example of how ABN works. He said, “Typically somebody approaches you, saying, ‘I just lost my job, so and so thought it would be a good idea to reach out to ABN and to you for assistance. Can you help me?’ We start from that and take a look at what happened. We assess the situation, look at their background, and look at strategies based on their skill set — where are they and where do they want to be? What are some of the gaps to fill in and strengths necessary to highlight?” ABN works on short-term and long-term strategies. If the applicant needs a job immediately, for example, one cannot be too picky, as opposed to a situation allowing more time for achieving results.
Assistance can also be provided in an informal fashion or for a very specific problem not necessarily career-connected. Antounian said the organization has helped people moving from Armenia to Boston, or Syria to Paris, to find places to stay or work through members who are in the destination cities.
For certain types of requests that are made publicly to the entire network, via its Facebook or LinkedIn sites, any of the 10,000 members theoretically could respond. If nobody does, then the ABN executive members step in and stimulate the discussion publicly or privately.
The range of fields for assistance is as wide as the range of professions and interests of members. While 55-60 percent of members live in the New England area, primarily in greater Boston, the group is expanding rapidly, with Armenia being its highest growth area. It is open to starting branches in different US regions or other parts of the world.
The ABN partners with other Armenian organizations occasionally to help what ABN feels are useful programs. For example, the Knights of Vartan has a scholarship program for students. When the latter are ready for an internship or career placement, the Knights connects the students with the ABN to help the latter.
Antounian stressed that “We don’t get any financial assistance from any organization. If anything, we support and encourage our members to support other organizations. We don’t charge, so that everything we do is done pro bono. This is true even for the organizations that support us. They get something in return too, such as [good] public relations.” Furthermore, the group does not incur many expenses. It uses free or inexpensive technology when possible, like Facebook or LinkedIn for communications.
The present executive team of ABN, aside from founder Antounian, includes two people involved since the early years — corporate marketing director Arlette Yegumians and real estate company managing member George Haroutiounian, and relative newcomer Karina Demurchyan, a real estate consultant who has been on the executive for a little over a year. Previous executive member Emil Vartan is no longer with ABN, while Paul Yeghiayan has taken a break after moving to Washington D.C.
ABN has decided for the first time to organize a career day this year for high school seniors, college students and young adults. The February 20 event has limited seating, so that only the first 160 registrants can participate. Antounian said, “The concept is almost like a school guidance counsellor session. The only difference is that the counselor in this case is an accomplished professional expert in a particular field — usually CEOs or other executives with commanding positions in their respective industries. Not only will they share what is currently needed and what currently helps you become competitive, but they will point out where the industry is going and how you can prepare for it.
Antounian said that the extra element of having Armenians who share similar backgrounds in terms of upbringing and family show how they succeeded in their careers can be inspirational to young Armenians. Furthermore, relationships may be established as there is a potential for networking.
The keynote speakers are Dr. Jerome Isaac Friedman, holder of the 1990 Nobel Prize in physics, Inessa Rifkin, co-founder and CEO of the Russian School of Math, Peter Koutoujian, the sheriff of Middlesex County, and Dr. Anna Ohanyan, chair of the Department of Political Science and International Studies at Stonehill College (Easton, Mass.).
There will be three 50-minute parallel breakout sessions covering the following 12 field or industry groupings: biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, medical and health care, engineering and sciences, internet technology and software, finance and accounting, marketing and sales, arts and humanities, education, legal, international relations and politics, manufacturing, and architecture, civil engineering and real estate. Each session will have two to three speakers and most of them are Armenian by background. All attendees will have the opportunity to attend their top three panel discussion and/or presentation-style sessions of choice.
A one-hour reception at the 11th floor of the Microsoft NERD Center will be the conclusion to the event, at which participants can network with the industry experts and fellow attendees.
In addition to Yegumians and Demurchyan, members of the ABN executive board members, there is a special group of people involved in organizing this event. It includes Sona Antonyan, Michael Demirchian, Raffi Kotikian, Ani Zargarian, David Hamparian, Yelena Bisharian and Harry Glorikian. Dr. Edward Shapiro, a Russian-American scientist who founded the organization Nobel Laureates’ School Visits, assisted in getting Dr. Friedman for the event.
The career day will begin at 1 p.m. and end at 6 p.m. at the NERD Center, at 1 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA. For more information on ABN and registration for the February 20 career day, see armenianbusinessnetwork.com. To join ABN, use its Facebook or LinkedIn web pages.