Alvion Legall left his childhood home in Trinidad and Tobago with a small duffel bag and a one-way ticket to New York. As he headed toward the door, his mother said firmly, “Don’t come back. There is nothing left for you here.”
She knew that if he stayed on the island of Tobago, he’d repeat the generations-old cycle of trade work. Somewhere else, she hoped, he’d have the opportunity to become someone.
As Long As You’re Alive, You Can Learn
When Alvion was in the fourth grade, he and his peers took an exam. It’s no longer this way today, but for young Alvion, the exam set the course for the rest of his life. Score well enough, you went on to middle school and high school. Score low enough, and your education was over; you were sent to learn a trade like carpentry or home economics.
“At a very early age, I saw my life as a taxi driver. That was all the opportunity that was afforded to me then,” remembers Alvion. “If I didn’t go to high school, being a taxi driver was all that was left for me.” Fortunately, Alvion did well on the exam and he went to high school. But college? That was never going to be part of the equation.
But Alvion’s mother saw that he had a gift. She watched him take apart electric cars; he was quick to learn and good with his hands. She didn’t see Alvion behind the wheel of a taxi. One day, she pushed a brochure of colleges in New York across the table. “I laughed at it!” Alvion recalls. “I thought, ‘College, yeah right! That’s not going to happen.’”
Still, Alvion’s curiosity was piqued. Eventually, he opened up the brochure and saw courses in computer science and technology. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do that,’ though I never expected to get in.” But he did get in. On his 18th birthday, Alvion’s mother let him in on a secret. She’d arranged for him to go to Queensboro Community College to study electronics. He moved in with his father, who’d been working in New York for eight years as a mechanic. Alvion – the oldest of six siblings and the first in his family to attend college – was charting an unknown path.
My mother always said to me, ‘As long as you’re alive, you can still learn.’
“What she meant was that you’re never too old to learn something. Even though life may try to box you into a corner, you can still get out of the corner life put you in,” Alvion says. His mother took his shoulder and turned him away from the corner; she helped him to look out toward the future, and he faced it head-on.
The Student Becomes The Teacher
When Alvion began his degree in electrical systems and electronics at Queensboro Community College, it was the first time his fingers had grazed a keyboard. But the computer didn’t feel foreign; it felt like an old friend. “The more I learned, the more my love for computers deepened,” Alvion recalls. “I was intrigued by its inner workings; I wanted to take it apart and understand it better.”
After a year, he was hired by the school as an assistant professor. They needed someone who could quickly learn new software systems, and then, with equal skill, teach it to faculty. Over the summer, Alvion learned new generations of operating systems like Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 and taught the systems to professors. In the fall, he would sit quietly among his classmates listening to the same lessons he had taught the professor just a few months before.
After graduation, he worked at a tune-up service, where he met many owners of small, family-run businesses. He noticed that many of these family-owned businesses needed help with their tech infrastructure. They deserved the same kind of protection as larger businesses but struggled to find someone they trusted to do it. He was drawn toward the small-business culture, and in 2001 he founded ABL Computers. “The key thing is that the companies we work with are small, family-owned businesses,” he says. “We tend to build a tighter relationship with people who are technically invested in their own business.”
Clients’ Biggest Challenge: Fear
Do you wonder who is listening in on phone conversations? Tracking web searches on your laptop? Do you ask yourself, am I safe using the technology I depend on? Alvion’s customers wonder the same things. The fear of “Big Brother” makes them feel unsure about the very tech that seeks to make their lives better.
“Even though technology might appear to be scary, it depends on whose hands are behind the technology,” says Alvion. “I don’t want my clients to believe in conspiracy theories. Technology is there to help us, to improve our lives and make us better.”
Alvion points out that your data is collected. However, when you’re in control of technology, it can improve your health, how you spend your money or even your relationships. “My clients are facing attacks from all places, whether it’s business or personal. They don’t have a trusted advisor to gather information for them,” he says. “So they are very hesitant to invest money in technology or cyber security.”
Instead of dismissing their fears, Alvion seeks to understand them, build trust and then guide business owners on how to get control of technology in their businesses in a manageable way. “I don’t try to sell them the entire theme park, as an example, with all the rides, turnstiles and candy stations,” he says. “We have a Crawl-Walk-Run process at ABL Computers. When we meet someone, we say, ‘Okay, you may not be able to afford everything, but what you can afford is a turnstile. So we’re going to give you a turnstile. As we come to understand what your business is about and what you are trying to accomplish, we’re going to help you use technology.'”
Alvion reminds clients that ABL Computers is not an expense, but an investment into their company. “Once they see us as an investment, they understand they need us in order to grow,” he says. “We’re not trying to take their money, but to help them save it.”’
ABL Computers Speaks Your Language
Alvion doesn’t just learn the technical aspects of a business, he desires to learn about people’s lives. “I know technology,” he explains, “but I don’t know what you do. You have your gifts, your talents, your baggage. My challenge is to speak your language. Not the other way around. I have to understand where you are coming from so I will not bring out your fears.”
Alvion reminds clients that they have control over technology, though it can feel like technology dictates our lives. “We rely on technology so much that we stop thinking for ourselves. Our TV tells us what to watch, our phone tells us who to spend time with,” Alvion says. “We should embrace technology, but it can be used for good or bad. You decide how it impacts your life.” When small and medium business owners decide they are ready to use tech to improve their business, ABL Computers extends a friendly hand and shows them how.
Creating Opportunity And Removing Hurdles
When Alvion works with clients, he knows that he has to remove hurdles like fear or limited budgets to help them gain access to new opportunities and growth. Many people struggle to overcome the obstacles that impede growth, like minority teens preparing for college. To help, ABL donates computers to college students to remove just one of their burdens. He doesn’t plan to stop there.
Soon, Alvion hopes to have a college scholarship fund. “I want to remove some of the hurdles that people have that keep them from going to college,” he says. “I hope that when they graduate, they will pay it forward and help someone else.” Alvion says that children of minorities often must start from the same point each generation because they don’t have the opportunity to build on. By giving others a step up, he helps break the cycle and pave their way toward a new future, the way his mother did for him.
Alvion Legall has been back to Trinidad and Tobago to see his mother many times. “She’s happy,” he says, “that I’m able to support my family, that I was able to grow out of what was presented to me as a child and that I have become much more than that.” Now, as CEO of ABL Computers, he’s paying it forward.
For more information on ABL Computers, visit www.ablcomputers.com.