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Software giants load up on hard assets

Whether or not Jean and Gilbert Hakim move their software company's headquarters to downtown Clearwater, the soft-spoken brothers have quietly become major players on Pinellas County's economic landscape.

With land holdings totaling $18-million and a 500-person, $50-million computer software company regarded as a leader in its field, the Hakims have created a powerful presence from an initial investment of less than $1,000.

"They have the ultimate in quality, clean industry," said Richard "Buzz" David, Pinellas County economic development director. "A company that employs several hundred folks in software development is the kind of company any community in the planet would be thrilled to have within their borders _ us included."

Founded with less than $1,000 in 1979, SCC Soft Computer develops computer programs for clinical laboratories and other health care facilities. The company moved here from New York in 1991 with fewer than 55 employees and less then $5-million in annual revenues. Each brother has a master's degree in computer science from Stony Brook University in New York, according to the company.

Since moving to Palm Harbor, SCC has grown dramatically.

In fiscal year 2003, it said it had $51.5-million in revenues and employed more than 500 high-tech workers. SCC has already outgrown its second corporate headquarters since it relocated to Palm Harbor.

That leaves the Hakims shopping for a new home. In December 2002, SCC said it was considering moving to property the Hakims own in Pasco County. Last week, Clearwater officials said the company was discussing purchasing the historic Calvary Baptist Church property and Clearwater City Hall, which together cover 6.1 acres on a bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor.

Jean Hakim did not return calls seeking comment. Gilbert Hakim's wife, Ellie Vahman, who is also SCC's spokeswoman, said he was traveling and unavailable for comment.

But friends, colleagues and industry experts say the Hakims are savvy businessmen who are shy about their exploits but always exploring new ventures.

"The higher up you get, the less you speak," said Andy Rughani, a friend and Jean Hakim's sponsor in the Palm Harbor Rotary Club. "But Jean's a very good businessman. And like any good businessman, he always has options. Clearwater is simply one of those options."

And SCC, though the largest, is only one of the Hakims' business investments.

Since moving to Florida, the brothers have acquired land in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties and are officers in 19 Florida companies, including three founded last fall. They even own the property for a Clearwater house of worship.

Jean Hakim focuses on the operations of the businesses, colleagues say. Gilbert Hakim concentrates on the marketing of SCC, the brother's biggest venture.

But together, their portfolio is substantial.

It starts with SCC.

"They continue to invest in their product and it makes it the best in the industry," said Paul Timmerman, director of business development with Vermont-based IDX Systems Corp., a company that also markets health care software and which formed a partnership with SCC in 2002. "There is a track record of Soft Computer having staying power in this business."

SCC's computer software creates a paperless trail throughout hospitals in North America. For example, when doctors order a blood test, they create a computer file that moves alongside the actual medical work all the way back to the patient. There's no more doctor's notes written in chicken-scratch. Instead, there's a permanent electronic file stored in a computer database.

Gary Yancich, president and CEO of LabSoft, a smaller, but similar firm based in Tampa, said SCC is among the top five companies that sell products to the nation's largest medical institutions.

Recently, SCC landed contracts with hospitals in New York, Chicago and Atlanta, according to the company's Web site.

"We're in the same business, but they're at a different end of it than we are," said Yancich, who runs a business with 10 employees that caters to smaller medical clinics. "SCC is pretty big. I'm not going to say they're the biggest. But they are a heavy player in the system."

Last year, SCC was named Technology Company of the Year by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. The company is also a member of the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Jean Hakim represents the company at gatherings, said chamber president Connie Davis.

"He's really a nice man," Davis said. "Very soft spoken. And very classy."

Aside from the success of their business, the Hakims have spent millions buying land along U.S. 19 in north Pinellas and Pasco counties. They also have significant holdings in Oldsmar and Belleair.

They control property that in Pinellas alone has an assessed taxable value of $14-million. Add in their Pasco holdings and that number closes in on $18-million.

SCC moved into its current headquarters at 34350 U.S. 19 N in 1996. Then, executives said they expected to outgrow the facility in three years. SCC also rents out space to an office of the Times at that location.

In Pasco County, the Hakims own a strip of commercial land between Phoenix and Flora avenues along U.S. 19 that could become the company's new home. That property, which has an assessed taxable value of more than $2.8-million, is controlled by Holiday Square Ltd., a Florida limited partnership that lists Jean Hakim as the registered agent. SCC executives told the Times in 2002 they are considering moving their company into that space, which has about 100,000 square feet available, nearly double their Palm Harbor location.

"If we haven't found anything else in a few months, we pretty much have no choice but to move," Armin Hakim, SCC's vice president of administration, said at the time.

Jean Hakim also owns a vacant parcel along Harbor Pointe Drive in Port Richey.

And in Hillsborough, Jean Hakim owns a commercial property and a vacant lot worth $230,000, according to the Hillsborough County tax records.

"Anyone who is an entrepreneur who has developed a company to any level is a player in my mind," said David, the county economic development director.

But the Hakims have also created a house of worship in Clearwater for a little-known modern religion.

Gilbert Hakim is a listed officer of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Pinellas County Florida, a Florida nonprofit corporation founded to substantiate the faith. Their building at 2898 Gulf to Bay Blvd. is owned by New Era Network II, one of the Hakims' companies.

"They are very generous in our Baha'is community," said Roger Bansemer, a member of the faith. "If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have a Baha'is center."

Baha'ism originated in Persia, modern-day Iran, during the 19th century. The faith's spiritual leader, Baha'u'llah, was a proclaimed messenger of God born in 1817 and persecuted throughout his life by the ruling government.

Baha'is have no clergy, Bansemer said, and attend services called Baha'is Feasts. There, members read from sacred texts. Members believe in world peace, spiritual unity and gender equality, among other principles.

"The Hakims live by the sacred principles quite a bit," Bansemer said. "They follow those principles in their business.

"And I know they follow them in life."

_ Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 771-4303 or