After a childhood spent playing with erector sets, fiddling with car engines, and getting A’s in advanced placement math classes in the West Haven public schools, David Struwas ’70, ’79 MBA began his career as a engineer. “Engineering taught me how to think things out,” he says. “And when you had a question, there was one answer.”
Once he had his undergraduate degree from UNH, he worked as a civil engineer in a concrete company, then in aeronautical engineering for Sikorsky. While at Sikorsky, he decided to go back to school for his MBA in finance and marketing. And it was there that he found a whole new way of looking at questions – and answers – that was far from the linear thinking of the engineer. “In sales and marketing,” he says, “there is no right or wrong answer.”
He was looking at the work world differently, and it began to show in his choices. He moved to Southern New England Telephone, where he was placed in an intense training program for telecommunications. The training would make a difference to his career once he moved from telecom to sales and marketing.
“A lot of the sales people who came in had to learn the telecommunications end of it,” he says. “I already knew that, so I got the big accounts – General Electric, Stanley Works.”
He also got a sense of what was possible, and as he left SNET for Brooks Fiber, he was evolving into what he calls himself today: a serial entrepreneur.
Few engineers morph into sales mavens, and fewer successful salespeople embrace engineering. Experienced, personable and willing to take on informed risk, Struwas was both, and he used his acumen to start DSL.net, a company that favored second-tier smaller cities over major metro markets.
“We were thinking that there’s no competition, it’s easier to get into the market and there’s the same demand as major metro markets,” he says.
DSL grew quickly, and he and his partners took the company public. By then, Struwas was receiving calls from companies who needed smart, resourceful leaders. He moved from one to the other, helping struggling companies to succeed and learning lessons along the way. A few years ago, he and a few partners approached private equity firms for funding to combine the synergies of various data centers into one company, Xand Corp. Once they had secured the financial backing, Struwas spent almost a year as CEO acquiring other data centers and streamlining the company’s processes. With the work done, he left Xand but retained part ownership of the firm. “I retired again,” he jokes.
An engineer who says he “loves people,” he lacked one element of success as he moved up the career ladder: a mentor. He promised himself that when he was in a position to, he would help other entrepreneurs avoid mistakes. He has fulfilled that promise, and then some. “I’ve helped a number of people who have wanted to start companies,” Struwas says. In keeping with that philosophy, he also has been speaking to UNH engineering students about the future.
“The combination of the engineering and the MBA helped me out a lot,” he says. “And my message to students today is that once they get out of engineering school and are tempted by the big salaries, they should stop and think about starting their own business. Sure, you work long hours, and you may or may not hit a home run with the money, but there’s a strong satisfaction in it.”