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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 10, 2003 14 years ago

Entrepreneur Finds Law (Tampa edition)

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Retired engineer Howard Iken is swapping professions. He plans to specialize in divorce for business owners, a niche he discovered as a judge's clerk.

Entrepreneur Finds Law (Tampa edition)

Retired engineer Howard Iken is swapping professions. He plans to specialize in divorce for business owners, a niche he discovered as a judge's clerk.

By Hali White

Legal Affairs Editor

Howard Iken plans to go directly into private practice next year after he graduates from Stetson College of Law. No paying dues doing grunt work at a large firm.

Of course Iken will not be the typical law student graduate. At 45, and a member of the Service Core of Retired Engineers (SCORE), Iken knows the ins and outs of running a business. He sold his company, Security Automation Inc., two years ago for about $1 million.

He plans to draw on his experience as a business owner in his law practice, which will be based in New Port Richey. "I'm probably the only one (law student) 15 months before graduation writing a business plan and marketing plan," Iken says.

Iken knows what practice management software he will use - and even what his lobby will look like: "comfortable and not intimidating; no cherry wood."

His niche: business owners going through divorce.

"There are not a lot of lawyers who have specialized in business finance and family law, so I hope to fill a market niche," Iken says. "I plan to bring simplicity to an otherwise complicated situation."

Iken will also draw on his own experience as a clerk with Judge John Renke in Pinellas/Pasco family court. As a clerk, he sat through about 300 family law hearings and read every case file. He discovered a pattern.

"In contexts of businesses in divorce, it seems a universal rule that the spouse who owns the business presents that the business is going downhill two years before the divorce," Iken says.

"The (other) spouse presents the picture that the business has reached the size of IBM. The actual truth is somewhere in between. It takes a business mind to uncover the truth. Businesses are extremely complex and have many opportunities to manipulate assets."

Iken grew up in the public housing projects of New York City. His father always worked about three jobs; one was usually self-owned. Iken's first job was in television engineering in New York. At 19, he moved to Savannah, Ga. A year later, he accepted a job at PBS Channel 3 in Tampa. He left PBS for the University of South Florida, working as an engineering manager in the school of medicine.

At that time, he began moonlighting as his own boss doing part time engineering work for local cable companies. At 23, Iken committed full time to the life of an entrepreneur.

His first company, MVS Technical, repaired television studio equipment.

"I started at my dining room table," he says. "My biggest problem was keeping the cats from jumping on my work."

Over time, the business evolved from equipment repair to the installation of electronic security. He employed as many as 26 people, depending on projects in progress.

After several years, Iken bought a locksmith company and merged it with his company to form Security Automation Inc., which still operates in Tampa.

Four years after the merger, Iken dropped his management hours to less than 10 a week and discovered he hated inactivity. Meanwhile, he was going through a divorce. The combination forced him to take stock of his life at about the same time that Stetson first advertised its plans to offer part-time night classes.

He considered the job his divorce attorney was doing, and liked what he saw.

In 2001, after the terrorist attacks, business brokers were very interested in his electronics security business. Three months after he placed his company on the market, he sold for his asking price. Iken registered for Stetson's full-time program.

In 15 months, he plans to add JD and MBA to his name, and move into a non-intimidating office - no cherry wood - to advise divorcing business owners.

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