In 1990, Ethan Assal parlayed his penchant for home computing into a small business designing slide show presentations. Today, he masterminds the daily operations of one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States.
Assal's brainchild, Executive Presentations Inc., was recently named to the formidable Inc. magazine list of the 500 most rapidly expanding companies in the country.
Other honors heaped on Assal include his nomination by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mass Mutual Insurance and Nations Business Journal as a Maryland candidate for the Blue Chip Enterprise Initiative, a national award that recognizes use of resources to overcome adversity and create opportunities. Also, Assal has been named Maryland's Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year by a board of officials from Ernst & Young, Merrill Lynch and Inc. magazine.
The 110-employee company bills itself as the largest, full-service, computer graphics facility in the Washington area. Founded in 1990, the company is divided into two divisions: EPI Communications and EPI Systems.
EPI Communications incorporates multimedia, video, high-resolution scanning, printing, design services and photographic services as its core capabilities. EPI Systems is involved in computer graphics hardware and software sales, training, integration and technical support.
"There is no other company in the country that is providing the broad range of expertise that we offer," Assal said. "Other companies have tried to match what we do, but our level of sophistication in regard to people and technology makes it very difficult for anyone to emulate us."
In fact, Assal contributes much of the company's recent success to his staff and the company's decision not to invest in the "buggy" multimedia software. Many other companies were buried when they spent a lot on tools that quickly became outdated.
EPI acquired one such company, The Forte Group, Alexandria, Va., in February 1993. This acquisition bolstered the company's photo and imaging capabilities. EPI also bought Lanman Communications, Washington, in July 1992 to strengthen its print design business.
EPI's customers include the Department of Defense and FBI, as well as companies such as Litton-PRC Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Computer Sciences Corp. Assal notes, however, that no more than 3 percent of its business comes from one client, and he considers this an advantage.
"We aren't going to live or die over one account," Assal said.
Looking ahead, Assal is planning to expand into other metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco. "We will continue to grow through acquisitions and outward expansion," Assal said. "We've always been able to stay on the cutting edge and our goal will be to remain there."