At age 62, Al Dosal once again finds himself a Miami tech pioneer.
He founded a company called Compuquip 31 years ago, when an office computer’s memory topped out at about 60K (roughly .00005 percent of what’s found in a 1G iPod Shuffle today). He’s still running the company, but this summer brought a new milestone for the veteran tech executive: Chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber executives say this is the first time an executive from the technology industry has taken the volunteer post. His election comes at a time when Miami is trying to market itself as a technology hub for the Americas.
Along with his Chamber post, Dosal is part of a group organizing a Latin American tech conference in Miami Beach for May 2014. The aim: bring the heavy-weights in the U.S. technology industry to court new markets and customers in the emerging markets of the Americas.
“If I’m Checkpoint Software and I want to move my business into Latin America, how do I do that?” Dosal asked. “I can hire a bunch of people and send them down there. Or once a year I can spend three or five days in Miami.”
Dosal got his start selling computers the size of dining-room tables that would punch out paper records of bank transactions, then moved into selling financial terminals to banks before the personal computer revolution all but ended that business. Compuquip shifted to an IT provider, including data-security services, and other spin-off ventures. Dosal sold a good chunk of that business in 2012. Now Compuquip focuses solely on data security.
“I always try to be on the leading edge of technology, and not the bleeding edge,’’ Dosal said. “It’s hard.”
This year, Dosal also took a seat on the local Federal Reserve board, an advisory group that helps the Atlanta district gain insight into the economy of southern Florida.
For his one-year term at the Chamber, Dosal puts financial health at the top of the agenda. The Chamber took in about $4.2 million in 2010, according to its most recent tax return available online, and posted a surplus of about $375,000. The year before, in the midst of the recession, the Chamber saw a $68,000 operating loss, according to the return. (Chamber CEO Barry Johnson said the 2012 surplus was $198,000.)
The Chamber gets the most attention for its political positions, and each year its board agrees on a set of priorities to push for at all levels of government. The Chamber ended up on the losing end of two of the biggest Miami-Dade debates in recent years: the failed push for casino gambling in downtown Miami (the Chamber was for it) and the failed effort to raise hotel taxes for a renovation of Sun Life Stadium (the Chamber was for that, too).
While the Miami Heat’s push to negotiate an extended deal with Miami-Dade for the AmericanAirlines Arena may eventually break into a major debate, so far the political horizon looks fairly tranquil for Dosal’s tenure. But he noted: “something usually comes up that is totally unexpected.”
In a telephone interview, Dosal talked to Business Monday about how much time his volunteer position takes, the invasiveness of data thieves and why he thinks he is Miami.
Q: You are in the data-security business. How often are your clients having to defend themselves from data thieves?
All the time. The perception is all the hacking is done externally. That’s not the case. There are a lot of employees who want to find out information. Payroll and other things. And a lot of employees who want to steal information and sell it.
Q: You’re on the Federal Reserve board. One of your responsibilities is to give insight into the local economy. Are you surprised Miami-Dade isn’t seeing very strong job growth?
I think technology has a lot to do with it. In the early days in my business, computers were replacing employees in the accounting department. Nowadays it effects everything. I read the other day that FPL was laying off meter readers because it has new smart meters. Think about all the people who used to man toll booths. Those are just two examples. It’s reached the level where we can do so much more with less.
Q: Is there an industry in Miami-Dade that you think doesn’t get the attention that it should?
I’ll tell you one that is just now beginning to get talked about, and that is manufacturing. Over the past year, there has been lots of talk about can we encourage manufacturing. But there is more manufacturing going on that we really see.
Q: How much time is involved in this Chamber position?
It’s a substantial amount of time once you’re the chairman. The Chamber has up to 200 events every year. Attending 30 to 50 events would not be out of the question for me. And the executive committee meets once a month. The board meets once a month. Trustee lunches are 11 times a year.
Q: How effective is it to have a new chair every year?
The chairs are already in place two years ahead of time. It gives you a two-year window to prep for it. In one year, you can make a pretty good dent, if you will, on the Chamber. There’s always an agenda as far as the things you want to accomplish. What all the past chairs will tell you is something usually comes up that is totally unexpected.
Q: One unexpected item that came up during your predecessor’s term last year was the resignation of Frank Nero as the CEO of the Beacon Council. Did the Chamber play any behind-the-scenes role in that?
The Chamber did not.
Q: What would you say are the big differences in those organizations?
The Beacon Council was borne from the Chamber many, many years ago. It was spun off. We at the Chamber are totally a member-driven organization. Our missions are similar, but different. Their job is to bring in companies that will bring jobs. Our mission is, once those companies come in, we have to meet them with open arms and get them acclimated to the community.
If we overlap a little bit, so be it.
Q: What is your agenda this year?
The first thing is: I want to make sure the Chamber a year from now is in as good of a financial state as it is today. I want to make sure we do the proper programming, and that we maintain the quality of the programming, which has always been really good.
Q: What do you bring to the position?
I come from a small, family-run, entrepreneurial and technological background. I am probably the first chairman to come out of that background. There are not a lot of small-business chairmen. And certainly not from technology.
In my opinion, I am Miami. What I represent is small business, and that’s what we are.