Awards: Shah, who has run Northwest Software for the past 14 years, has been named the U.S. Small Business Administrationís Small Business Person of the Year for 2002 in Oregon. Itís not the first time she has won an SBA award. Previously, the agency named her small-business person of the year for the region that includes Alaska, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
Shah said itís her employees who make the company special. "The award was given to me as an individual, but I feel that it was really the people in the company that have done a good job at growing the business and sustaining it."
India: Shah, one of seven daughters, grew up in an upper-middle-class family in Mumbai, India. "They always encouraged us to really make a difference in society and told us that women can do as much as men," she said of her parents. "I was brought up thinking that way."
Landing in business: Before coming to the United States, Shah earned a degree in natural medicine from an Indian university. When she came to Portland, she considered continuing to study natural medicine but instead, eager to work, took a job with a pharmaceutical company. While working, she took night classes at the University of Portland, where she earned a masterís degree in business administration.
Starting up: In 1988, only two years after landing her first job in the United States, Shah started her own company, Northwest Software, on the side. She had seen a need in the high-tech industry to supply companies with temporary professionals able to do things such as writing software programs.
"One year later I left my job and started working full time," she said.
Northwest Software: Since 1988, Shahís company has written software for other companies and provided them with contract employees for projects. Shah said Northwest Software employs close to 100 people; about 80 of them work for the company full-time.
Culture: Shah identifies with aspects of both Eastern and Western cultures. She appreciates the West, she said, but wants her children to retain some values from the East.
Shah practices a form of Hinduism called Jainism that emphasizes principles such as nonviolence, truthfulness and not becoming attached to material possessions. Asked if itís difficult not to covet material things in the business world, she said every person must reconcile religion with the realities of life.
"There are people that want to get the Benz or the biggest house in the town," she said. "For me as an individual, I donít think some of those material possession are that important."
Shah said she tells her children to think about the possessions they want. "If you need it, get it. If you desire it, think about it."
-- Patrick Harrington