By Wayne Chargualaf
“It’s not that I was drawn into the IT field so much that I fell into it,” Ron Smith, president of Angil Design Inc. says.
“In about 1999, one of my friends — a dive buddy — opened a company here on Saipan,” Smith says. “He and I always talked computers and he said to me one day, ‘You know, you’re the smartest guy I’ve ever met who makes as little as you make. Why don’t you come to work with me?’”
Smith’s dive buddy — Joe Aubuchon of Maritech Inc. — put Ron Smith on to a path that would lead him to found his own technology company. A computer enthusiast for years, Smith gained professional experience with web design and programming while working for Sunset Advertising. Smith, however, credits Aubuchon for giving him the opportunity to take his computer skills to the next level.
“He gave me the opportunity to learn what were to me new technologies,” he says. “He was also very good at communicating the concepts of technology. There were a lot of concepts that were new to me, specifically database design, that he made clear.”
In the late ‘90s, the internet was still only beginning to become widely available and commercially viable for the consumer market. The vision of “computers as appliances” that would come to be closely associated with Apple’s eventual cultural dominance was still a few years away. Personal computers were still, for the most part, desk-bound, almond-colored boxes that were largely the domain of specialist hobbyists. The company IT person was likely someone who learned everything they knew tinkering in their bedroom and sharing with friends.
“You have to understand that when I got into IT, back then there wasn’t really any such thing as certification, I was entirely self-taught,” Smith says. “If it weren’t for [Joe Aubuchon’s] munificence, I would never have had the opportunity to engage in high-level programming, he provided me with that opportunity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
After some time working and learning with Maritech Inc., Smith decided to strike out on his own by founding Angil Design Inc. in 2000 and incorporating in 2001.
Angil Design started out as a web design firm that also does custom programming, eventually expanding into hardware.
“A lot of companies that were caught up in the Asian economic crisis had really dramatically contracted and the number of firms that were able to do what we call ‘cradle to grave IT’ were a lot smaller,” he says. “We were able to make high quality, custom-made workstations that were very popular and that combined with programming and networking really allowed us to expand into a lot of different areas.”
Aside from Angil Design’s commercial success, Smith says he’s proudest of the ways the company has contributed to the community.
“There are several standout moments, but what they all have in common is those moments when we completed systems that benefited the people of the CNMI,” he says. “We’ve done many different systems to support our agencies here such as the labor online system, the scholarship system, medical referrals — all of these systems allowed our agencies here to work more efficiently and to better benefit the people here.”
Angil Design helped businesses and agencies recover their IT systems after Super Typhoon Yutu, sometimes free of charge. The company has also developed IT systems for various nonprofit organizations for free.
“It’s very satisfying for us to see the systems being used and coming online to benefit the entire community.”
When not working, Smith can often be found reading or on the water, either sailing the Mariana Islands in his Hunter Legend 40.1 42-foot ocean-going yacht or racing Hobie Cat catamarans.
“I started sailing Hobie Cats in 1999 and I’ve been participating in competitions here since then,” he says. “Pretty much every weekend during the season I want to be out on the water.”
Smith is also an avid horologist — a maker and repairer of clocks and watches. A member of the 40,000-member strong National Association of Clock and Watch Collectors, Smith has about 30 antique timepieces, from grandfather clocks to pocket watches.
“I would love to expand awareness and appreciation for horology,” Smith says. “When you look at the history of timepieces, you’re looking at the history of the nation and even of the world. It’s really fascinating.”