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Dale Stein

From fiercely independent teenage milkman to telecom expert

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Dale Stein grew up as a middle child in a family of six children, the son of a journeyman lineman father and librarian mother, in a small town southwest of Chicago that had a population of less than 2,000.

His background served as an early influence, infusing him with a fierce work ethic and determination to make his own way in the world.

“When I was 10, I used to pick wild berries that I sold to people, later I had a paper route, then I did milk delivery — I was always independent,” Stein said.

By the time he was 15, he was working full-time and paying his way through a private Catholic boys’ high school, since he felt the education he would get at the small high school in town — with less than a hundred students — would not be good.

He woke up at 2 a.m. every day and delivered milk bottles until it was time to head for school.

“I wanted freedom, and I thought having money would give me that freedom,” he said, explaining his motivation to work those hours. “I was very observant as a kid, decided very early on that I didn’t want to work for anyone else but myself.”

When he was in college at DeVry University in Chicago, he read about alarm companies and decided it had future potential, so he began his career at Westinghouse Alarms. His work ethic served him well, and he became the top sales person his first year at the firm.

At 23 years old, he was made general manager of the company’s New York office. He came to San Diego a year later in 1974, to work at the firm’s dealership, WestTec.

Eventually, he became CEO of WestTec, and then he and his partners bought out a subsidiary security company, which they grew manifold before selling it several years later.

In his early 30s, Stein ventured into land development and built apartments and homes until the early 1990s when a recession hit.

This prompted Stein to go back into the telecom business with a friend, and he acquired a 40 percent stake in a struggling company called INET, which specialized in phone systems, voice mail and data networks.

He successfully turned it around, and when he sold it in 2000, sales had grown from $1 million to $18 million.

The serial entrepreneur then began Technology Assurance Group (TAG National), a for-profit membership group that offered marketing, sales and financial training for voice, data and telecom companies, focusing on business strategy and best practices.

In the process, Stein and his partners decided it was time to get back in the business themselves, instead of just advising and training members on tapping opportunities. With that in mind, they bought a stake in Voice Smart Networks, a member company, with the idea of expanding it from Ventura to Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.

Voice Smart Networks installs and maintains computer networks and voice systems for small and medium enterprises.

Stein has big plans — he wants to position it to do $10 million in business, at which point he’ll go on an acquisition spree, and when it reaches $20 million a year, he has his eye on a national rollout.

In describing himself, he said: “I try to make deals that are fair to both sides. I give more than I take, and that’s a great way to live.”

-Nagappan is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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