Back before most people knew what email was, Heinan Landa worked on the leading edge of a technological revolution.
After earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Johns Hopkins University in 1988, Landa landed a tech position at SRA, a substantial Northern Virginia information technology government contractor. The company was among the few of that time developing email to communicate.
“I was helping SRA put together an email system,” said Landa, 46, CEO and founder of Rockville IT company Optimal Networks. “But back then, you could only really email people within the company. Once the Internet took over in the mid-1990s, that form of communication exploded.”
The following year, Landa went to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania to obtain an MBA. During that time, he wrote a business plan for what became Optimal Networks. Upon graduating, he thought the time was right to venture on his own.
“I grew up in an entrepreneurial household,” said Landa, who was born in Israel and grew up in Wheaton and Rockville. He graduated from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville.
As a teen, he worked in his family’s business, as well as for NASA through an internship.
“I wanted to try starting my own business before I had a family,” Landa said.
He started the business with a college friend, who soon left since there was not enough work in the early stages to support them both, he said. Landa set up in an office within his parents’ business, LT Industries, a worldwide supplier of high-quality, near infrared measurement products in Gaithersburg.
It wasn’t long before Optimal moved out and is now a 25-employee business, with mostly small and medium-sized businesses and nonprofits as clients.
“Our clients vary from 10 employees to 300,” Landa said. “For some, we only consult and help them with their existing IT departments. For others, we handle all of their IT needs.”
In the mid-1990s, Landa found himself at one of the first Internet conferences, at the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Visiting booths of IBM, Netscape and other early Internet pioneering businesses, the environment stuck with him.
“There was a buzz like something was going to explode,” Landa said. “The next few years, it went crazy.”
While some Internet businesses cashed out and many went under in the early years, Optimal has survived and grown for more than two decades. Landa credited much of that to employing the right people and maintaining the business’ core values of telling the truth, doing the right thing and making sure that “everyone we interact with benefits.”
Landa — who also writes articles on technology and is a charter member of the technology section of the American Society of Association Executives — and Optimal Networks have attracted their share of awards. One of his latest will come April 23, when he will be honored as one of four outstanding Wharton alums by The Wharton Club of Washington, D.C., for his business accomplishments, service to Wharton and contributions to the IT industry.
Landa deserves the accolades for maintaining such honorable business values and giving generously of his time, said Alan N. Schlaifer, president of the local Wharton club and principal of the Law Offices of Alan N. Schlaifer in Bethesda. “His commitment to growing Optimal and the time and energy he devotes to our club are admirable,” Schlaifer said.
Optimal was one of the first companies in the Washington area to do managed IT services, in which the business takes on all or part of clients’ IT support for a fixed fee, Landa said.
While much IT work can be done remotely, it’s important to keep a personal touch with clients, he said. Optimal employs client service executives who visit clients regularly and advocate for their needs within Optimal.
More clients are asking how to move to cloud computing, he said, referring to technology delivered as a service over a network such as the Internet. That system can save companies time and money with more predictable capital costs, freeing employees to spend more time on growing the businesses, he said.
“The cloud is something every company needs to pay attention to,” Landa said. “Small companies can increase their IT capabilities immensely.”
Landa encourages his son’s musical abilities, even running sound equipment for performances. At the Wharton event later this month at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Washington, his 14-year-old son, Adam, will provide musical entertainment.
One of the first things visitors to his second-story office notice is some large bongo drums in a corner. He bought the drums for Adam’s bar mitzvah.
“I don’t really play them,” Landa said. “My son is the musician.”