Nicholas M. Mihalas
Class of 1959, BS
Nicholas M. Mihalas, the son of Greek immigrants, did not speak English until the first grade. His parents operated a diner in Norfolk, Virginia, but his father died when Nick was only four. His mother, Vivi, left with three young children all under six, guided them to adulthood with a set of rules that Nick remembers today. “Vivi’s Rules” were simple, yet provided a firm foundation to the man who would eventually become the president of the international company Timex.
Getting a good education was Vivi’s Number One rule; his mother was a schoolteacher in Greece, and Nick complied with his mother’s principle when he selected Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering in 1955. He had been a star athlete at Maury High School of Norfolk, president of his senior class, and the student mayor of Norfolk for a week. Some 25 colleges attempted to recruit Nick, but he selected Virginia Tech because it was the “one school that allowed me to practice football after my engineering classes. Other schools, including Yale and Georgia Tech, discouraged me from studying engineering,” Nick recalls.
As a chemical engineering student, Nick managed his time wisely, becoming an All-Chemical, All-American athlete as well as being selected on the All-Southern Football Conference Team. Nick found in Frank Moseley, Virginia Tech’s coach at the time, an alignment with his mother’s principles. “Frank Moseley also inspired my life, insisting on my getting a good education, being prompt, behaving as a team member and being competitive,” Nick says. Nick, an offensive center and a defensive linebacker (they had to play all 60 minutes then), had those team skills tested when his roommate broke his ankle. Coach Moseley told Nick to learn the plays of his roommate, an offensive end, for their next game against Florida State. “We won the game, and I luckily scored the winning touchdown,” Nick reminisces.
Off the playing field, Nick was busy with the Corps of Cadets, and eventually being commissioned 2nd Lieutenant as a Distinguished military graduate. “I learned leadership skills through the Corps,” Nick says. Unfortunately, a football injury to his back disqualified him from becoming an Air Force pilot (he had earned his pilot’s license at the Blacksburg Airport), so he stayed in the reserve after his graduation in 1959. Nick took his first job with General Electric of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a design engineer, authoring two papers on space propulsion systems. He stayed with GE for 10 years, becoming a project manager, and spending six of those years as President of General Electric’s Employees Organization, a group of some 30,000 members. As President, he was responsible for the organization’s entire cultural, recreational, and charitable budget. One of his key successes was the Olympic Fundraising Drive for his area, and he was fulfilling another one of Vivi’s Rules: “Be kind and charitable to people, and it will be returned.”
In 1971, Nick made his move to Timex as the General Manager of its Instruments Division. “We worked on artillery fuses, gyroscopes, control packages, ship chronometers, and many other electronic components for defense companies,” Nick says. After three years, during which time Nick maneuvered Timex to become the world’s largest producer of gyroscopes, he was promoted to Vice President of the Industrial Group. Ironically, the division included everything but the company’s famed timepieces. Nick orchestrated the purchase of GE’s clock and appliance timer business, and the electronic products divisions of Intel and RCA. “We made the Timex Industrial Group an extremely large product group,” Nick says. At the same time, Nick managed to obtain his master’s of business administration from Pepperdine University in 1974.
In 1977, Timex promoted Nick to President, this time asking him to re-engineer its wristwatch production to compete with the electronic competition already introduced to the marketplace by Far East competitors. Nick immediately began to close all of Timex’s mechanical watch factories and converted them or created new facilities that concentrated on the electronic quartz watches and liquid crystal displays. Nick also introduced Timex to sports marketing, becoming the official timer of ESPN sporting events, NASCAR, marathons, and the first corporate sponsor of the PGA tour. Nick also started Timex’ move into medical electronics and low-price computers.
Nick’s presidency of the worldwide company actually meant the administration over three entities: Timex Corporation in the U.S., Timex International in Bermuda, and Timex Ltd., in Laussane, Switzerland. The company had 25 factories from Europe to the U.S. to Asia. Nick completed the restructuring, and took the company private during his tenure, with a European family purchasing 100 percent of the stock. “The presidency was a tremendous challenge. Timex was a darling company of Wall Street, but as the largest watch company in the world, Timex was on the verge of going out of business because it had failed to respond to the electronic revolution,” Nick explains. Subsequently, Nick was awarded the J.L. Lemkuhl Award for his superior management and turnaround of Timex.
Nick left Timex in 1982, deciding to become an entrepreneur after 20 years of corporate life. He established three companies: a real estate investment firm with properties in Indiana, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; a consulting engineering firm that specialized in the turnaround of underperforming companies; and an investment and management firm for early stage start-ups. Nick spent much of his time working for venture capitalists to restructure poorly performing companies. One example was his chairmanship of Smart Card International Inc., of New York, the first U.S. manufacturer of intelligent credit cards. Another was Chase Manhattan’s hiring of Nick’s company to rectify the over-leveraged Mobile Drilling Co., of Indianapolis and to maximize its value prior to its sale to a Canadian firm.
After that venture, Nick retired as an operator of underperforming companies and moved his real estate and consulting business, Diablo Partners, to Charleston, South Carolina, and he and his wife Elaine of 38 years live nearby on Kiawah Island, South Carolina They have two children: Michael, a systems engineer with Cisco Systems, and Christina, who works in marketing for Rotech Healthcare, Inc. in California.
Nick continues to stay busy, as Vivi would have prescribed, and over the years he has contributed time as a director or a trustee to the Waterbury Hospital and a savings bank in Connecticut. He was also extremely active in business and industrial development in Connecticut, and the Chamber of Commerce. He has served on numerous advisory commissions and as a trustee of a private school. He was the first executive director of the South Carolina World Trade Center.
“As my mother said, family, friends and health make for a real life. Life is short enough. She believed that everything should be taken in moderation. We should have real passion for some things, not everything,” Nick reflects.
Class of: 1959
Year Inducted into Academy: 2005