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Robert Trigaux

Fazlin's journey: Pakistan to Poynter mansion



I first met engineer/entrepreneur Fazal Fazlin here in St. Petersburg 14 years ago. At 44, he was building his business, called Advanced Plasma Systems -- using plasma gas to treat and clean industrial surfaces -- and doing a pretty good job of it. He would later sell his business and go on to other pursuits here. So I was surprised and pleased to see a worthwhile opinion piece in Monday's New York Times about Fazlin, now 58. It starts like this:

"Fazal Fazlin has an American story. Raised in Karachi, Pakistan, he came to the United States in 1969 with an engineering degree and little else. Now he lives on a five-acre estate in the waterfront mansion that once belonged to Nelson Poynter, luminary of the newspaper business. Poynter, who died in 1978, was the owner of the St. Petersburg Times, a bastion of journalistic excellence and liberal tradition."

The point of the piece is that for most of his rags-to-riches American life, Fazlin was a Nixon Republican.

"So perhaps it's surprising to see 'Obama for President' signs outside the Poynter-Fazlin mansion and learn that Fazlin, joining long lines of early-voting Florida residents, has already cast his ballot for the Democratic candidate after twice voting Bush."

Fazlin, according to the opinion piece, feels disenfranchised from today's Republican Party. Fazlin wants less government and is fiscally conservative. He got neither of that with Bush. "We are trillions in debt. My granddaughter will pay for that," he is quoted saying. He's also concerned that the Republican Party's embrace of the Christian Right has left Fazlin, a Muslim, on the defensive. He states:

"Muslim cannot mean terrorist, but some of the e-mails I get suggest Republicans don't see the difference."

When Fazlin met Barack Obama, he was struck by someone with a sense of efficiency about him -- something an engineer would prize -- and a global openness. The New York Times piece was written by Roger Cohen, who became the the International Herald Tribune's first editor-at-large in 2006.

I have not run into Fazlin in several years, the last time at a "pink slip" party here for techies who had lost their jobs in the bursting of the Tech Bubble in 2001. That was after he had sold Advanced Plasma and was working on a management software company called Smart Shadow. I remember, even after 14 years, how excited Fazlin was in showing me his young company and his simultaneous dabbling in software that surely lead him later to form Smart Shadow. His success story here of a hungry engineer with good ideas and drive should serve as a role model for many in the Tampa Bay business world. His treatment by what was once his own political party, in a post-9/11 world, is a shame.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:22am]


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