Mr. Alex Harb came to the United States from Lebanon nearly 14 years ago with hopes of earning a college degree and eventually landing a job.
The experience left him with more questions than answers about how he would accomplish those goals. His situation was compounded by the fact that he knew little English. He was raised speaking French as a second language. Perseverance was his most important attribute.
Overcoming obstacles, he says, was nothing new in his life because he grew up amid turmoil in his native Lebanon. "It gives you the survivor mentality," says Harb.
He came to Wichita in August 2000 and enrolled at Wichita State University. Harb paid his way through college by busing and waiting tables, and selling pocket knives on eBay, while learning English along the way. He also worked as an intern at LSI Corporation, a computer storage device manufacturer in Wichita.
Within four years, Harb had accomplished one of his goals and set out to accomplish the other. With a computer science degree in hand, Harb started Ribbit Computers in December 2004.
Working with Intrust Bank, Alex Harb obtained a 7(a) SBA loan that financed the equipment, inventory, staffing and other operating expenses. “The SBA loan really helped,” Harb says. “I saved with a lower interest rate, plus it gave me more confidence in the marketplace. I can’t say enough to praise the professional assistance I received from Intrust Bank, and the great financing available through the SBA loan program.”
Alex Harb’s first job was at his dad's wholesale grocery store in Lebanon as a teenager. He honed his customer-service skills while working as a waiter at Red Rock Canyon Grill restaurant in Wichita. "Those experiences taught me the more you take care of the customer, the more reward you are going to get out of it," Harb says. Transferring those lessons to the computer business has helped Harb be successful with Ribbit.
Ribbit now has 55 employees across five retail and computer repair stores in Wichita. The company also includes a business solutions division, which launched in 2013.
"He was really good at customer service and I think he took that with him to Ribbit Computers," says John Arnold, who owns Red Rock Canyon Restaurant. "He's really passionate about that." Arnold says Harb wasn't afraid to work hard to accomplish his goals, and he often came to work early and stayed late.
Alex Harb has been interested in the restaurant business since college, and now he’s finally getting ready to open one of his own. “I just wanted to wait for the right opportunity to do it,” he says. His first foray into the business will be with a Golden Corral in Raymore, Mo., followed by three more in the Kansas City area in the next five years. Harb says North Carolina-based Golden Corral is a good company. A franchisee already has two in Wichita, so Harb says doing any Golden Corrals here is not an option for him.
“While I was going to college, I worked in restaurants,” he says. “I really wanted to open a restaurant by the time I was done.” He says he realized he needed business experience first. “The restaurant business is really tough,” Harb says. “You can’t make mistakes.” Keith Stevens, senior vice president of Southwest National Bank, who has served as a financial advisor to Harb, says he has a solid grasp of how to make a business successful. Stevens says Harb understands how to strategically grow a business. "I just admire his business acumen," Stevens says. "His expansion plans have been well thought out."
When he's not working, Harb enjoys pheasant hunting and playing soccer. "I enjoy what I'm doing," Harb says.
Article provided by the Small Business Administration, Wichita District Office. Click here for more information from the Small Business Administration, Wichita District Office.