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MIT Better World

By Liz Karagianis

“It’s great to be able to give back,” Frank says. “If I didn’t go to MIT, I definitely would not have had the financial success that I did.”

Frank Slaughter began a company at age 22, and 10 years later it was worth $2 billion. He and an MIT fraternity brother began a software business in a tiny room in their house in 1985. They built a desk from two cardboard boxes and a door, and they called the company Shiva Corporation.

“What happened was, we were on the periphery of the computer business in the early ’80s. It looked like everybody else was being successful and it didn’t look that hard, so we thought we’d give it a shot,” Frank says, adding that Shiva became a $120 million dollar company with 600 employees.

The pair named the company Shiva after the most powerful laser in the world. But unknown to them, it also was the name of the many-armed Hindu God of destruction and renewal. They told people the many-armed god indicated computer networking and connectivity.

Big success

Eventually their careers skyrocketed as cofounders of the company they later moved to Burlington, Ma. But their overnight success did not entirely come overnight.

“We made every mistake in the book. Well, maybe we didn’t make every one, but most of them,” says Frank, who also admits they did much right.

When Apple Computer’s Macintosh line was gaining popularity, the partners developed a software that allowed remote computers to access office networks just like onsite computers.

Shiva went on to take advantage of the IBM clone market, developing a modem that would work on both Mac and PC systems. Shiva later established alliances with Microsoft, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard.

For a time, it was one of the fastest-growing and most successful telecommunications companies around. The company went public in ’94 and Frank left in ’95.

Later, he became an investor and board member of Aptis Communications. He is now chairman of a start-up, MetaTel, an Internet and telecommunications company.

All along, Frank knew in his gut that he would be successful. “I don’t know why, but I always expected we would do well. It wasn’t like we had a can’t-lose idea, but I expected to succeed. We screwed up a lot, so I think that that positive attitude was one of the reasons we were successful.”

Frank earned a degree in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT in 1984, and Mimi earned a degree in electrical engineering and computer science in 1987.

Mimi, too, worked at Shiva, but left in ’93 before their first child was born. Frank says: “I tried to retire, but it’s uncomfortable telling people you’re retired when you’re only 36. People don’t know what to say.”

Time together

The Slaughters, now parents of two girls, Melissa, 3, and Michelle, 1, spend a lot of time together. The couple says that of all they do, they have most passion for raising their children. “I could give up everything, except spending time with the kids,” Frank says.

The family also loves to fish. Frank, who owns 30 fishing rods, grew up in Pittsburgh where he often fished for blue gills, large-mouthed bass, and trout. Now, the couple has a house on Cape Cod, where they keep a 50-foot fishing boat. In the winter, they sail to Florida and the Bahamas. Frank daydreams about one day catching a thousand-pound marlin. “That’s my dream.”

At MIT, Frank was on the crew team and Mimi played women’s varsity tennis, so they say their gift to MIT athletics is most gratifying.

“We’re young and haven’t been wealthy that long,” Frank says, “but pretty quickly you realize you’re lucky you’ve done so well. It just wouldn’t be right to hoard all the money, because it feels so great to give it away and to give back.”

Mimi says: “We tossed around ideas about who to give the money to, and we didn’t feel comfortable with anyone except MIT–because of all it did for us.

“Even with all this money and all the things that we have,” she adds, “we’re conscious of the fact that we may have a lot of money, but there are so many others who don’t.

“Because we’re able to give it away and because it does help others, we just feel that giving is the right thing to do.”

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