PART OF BEATING FEAR LIES IN TAKING CONTROL Columbia business owner says taking risks is only way to grow


It's not unusual for Momtaz Mansour to visit his Columbia company at 2 a.m.

Sometimes good ideas prompt Dr. Mansour to make the middle-of-the-night trips. But more often, anxiety drives him there.

"I'm afraid of everything from being humiliated among my peers to financial disaster," says Dr. Mansour, head of Manufacturing & Technology Conversion International Inc., or MTCI for short.

In the nine years since Dr. Mansour, who has a doctorate in engineering, and his wife, Amal Mansour, started their own company in the basement of their home, there have been many occasions for fear.

"It was murder the first two years," he says, noting that at the outset, the couple was personally liable for the company's obligations and their home was mortgaged to raise start-up money.

But last year MTCI, which develops technology to convert industrial waste and sewage to hydrogen gas for industrial uses, registered more than $3 million in business. That was far beyond the $85,000 in revenue it made in 1982, its first year of operation.

However, the stresses of a growing business have continued through the years. Recently, the couple established a spinoff company, ThermoChem, and accepted the stress involved in delegating a large measure of control over the new company to employees. "It's scary to give someone else the keys," Dr. Mansour says.

Still, the couple has learned to handle such risk-taking, which Dr. Mansour insists is essential for a company to grow.

Dr. Mansour advises entrepreneurs to seek advice from other young companies in their field. He adopted bookkeeping and accounting systems from others.

"I'm a technical person and I've saved myself a lot of agony this way," Dr. Mansour says. Gaining mastery over such housekeeping details as legal forms has given him a sense of control. "The more in control you feel, the less anxiety you get," Dr. Mansour says.

Religion has also played a role in helping Dr. Mansour and his wife, both engineers, cope with business fears. The couple, who emigrated from Egypt in 1964, are Coptic Orthodox Christians.

Recreation is another element in the couple's coping strategy.

If he finds himself becoming fearful or anxious during the work day, Dr. Mansour takes a walk to clear his mind and refocus.

Exercise and recreation are critical for a business owner who can feel overwhelmed with making decisions for his company.

"When you have your own business, the days kind of melt into the nights and into the weekends," says Dr. Mansour. "Some recreation is essential if you're going to break the cycle of anxiety, inefficiency and more anxiety."

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