Sharon Habibi (BS/Arch ’75, MS/CEE ’77, EMBA ’89, University of Tennessee; Executive MBA ’89, Georgia State University) made the journey from the suburbs of Tehran, Iran, to a successful career as an entrepreneur and business owner in Atlanta, Georgia, with the help of a special mentor and an engineering degree from the University of Tennessee.
Habibi, born Shirin Sirang Habibi in Tehran, was the daughter of a nuclear physicist, Mozaffair Sirang. Mr. Sirang received a grant to study in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the family moved to Tennessee in 1960. Habibi completed 5th and 6th grade in Oak Ridge before the family moved back to Iran.
In 1970, Habibi returned to Tennessee and decided to major in architecture at UT–her father had consulted with some of his Oak Ridge friends and they had recommended the university for her studies.
“I was always good in math and numbers and in those days in Iran if you were not a doctor, architect, or an engineer you were nobody,” Habibi said. “My family insisted that I become a physician, but my grades in biology convinced me that I needed to follow a different path. Architecture was a great alternative but I still had an analytical side and a passion in me for the engineering.
After graduation I decided that structural engineering was a great add-on to the architecture degree that I had received.” Habibi decided to work towards a master’s degree in civil engineering.
During the process of research about the department, she met with CEE professor Dr. Ed Burdette and it was his encouragement and his confidence in Habibi that convinced her that she was on the right path.
After Habibi received her master’s degree, she accepted a position with Datum Engineers in Dallas, Texas. At that company, she became more engaged in computer programming and developing applications for engineering calculations.
In 1980, during the advent of personal computing, Habibi and her husband decided to start their own business. Since the couple had an eight-month old daughter, they decided to move to Atlanta where her parents were located so she could have childcare while continuing her career.
“In 1980 I moved to Atlanta and started up a small software company, Syscom Technologies, Inc., marketing to engineers, which soon took off to become an information technology hardware
and software company serving Atlanta’s growing business sector,” Habibi said. “The IT industry was growing by leaps and bounds and being part of it was fun, engaging, and filled with challenges.”
While facing the daily tasks of running a business, Habibi decided to go back to school for a business degree, and she received her executive MBA from Georgia State University in 1989.
After thirty-five successful years, Habibi sold her business in 2015. “I’m not ready for retirement yet, and I’m still searching for that second career everyone talks about,” Habibi commented.
Habibi is a strong supporter of higher education, and credits her degrees from UT as being integral to her career success. “You can get a good education in many schools, but it’s the personal attention that you get, the confidence that you build, and the clear vision that you develop that makes the difference,” Habibi said. “I think I was very lucky to get that at UT. My advisor and mentor Dr. Burdette was a major influence on me and I believe that engineering students at UT still have that same experience.”
Habibi has two grown daughters, Parisa and Azita. One daughter works in Spain for Amazon Corporation and the other is in San Francisco with Braintree. Habibi enjoys working out and playing tennis, and spending time with her grandson who lives with his mother in Spain.
“I owe what I have today to the mentors that I have had along the way, most especially my father and Dr. Burdette,” Habibi added.