Annie Safoian is a proud Armenian woman brought up in a strong family and by devout parents who have shaped her character. Raised by the children of genocide survivors that repatriated to Armenia, she grew up in Yerevan with her two sisters in a forward-thinking household that valued hard work and education. “We were the only girls on our street to ride bicycles,” Annie reflects. “My mom was one of the first women in Yerevan to drive a car back in the ‘60s.” As co-founder of SADA Systems, Annie has built a successful tech company with her husband, Hovig Safoian, and son, Tony Safoian, paving the way for women in the field of technology, while nurturing patriotism and strong values in the family.
Annie’s grandmother, a genocide survivor, had repatriated to Armenia from Iraq and settled in the village of Voskevaz as a single mother with two children. “My grandma wanted to make sure that my mother, a very bright student at the top of her class, would have the opportunity to get a decent education,” Annie says. “She sold two of her rugs, bought a very small house and moved the family to Yerevan.” Annie and her two sisters were born and raised in Armenia in an empowering environment that gave them the confidence and thrust to succeed.
When Annie had a family of her own, she made the difficult decision to leave Armenia in the ‘80s so she would be better positioned to provide for her family. When she arrived in the United States, she signed up for a computerized accounting class right away. She knew she was good at numbers but needed the right education to thrive. She quickly secured a job in accounting and excelled due to her hard work and determination to succeed.
Annie always had a fascination with technology that she fostered growing up and as an adult. Her parents both worked at a mainframe computer manufacturing company in Yerevan; and her husband, Hovig, worked as a programmer before co-founding SADA Systems. “We did not have much furniture at home back then, but we had a computer,” Annie recalls. “We had saved money to purchase an expensive one, back then. We still have it as a piece of our history.”
Years later, when her first employer moved to New Jersey, Annie was left without a job. This was the perfect opportunity, she recalls, to turn a negative circumstance into a constructive juncture in life, and she began spending more time discovering the intricacies and capabilities of the computer. She explored the various fonts and design potentials the computer software had back then, while her husband Hovig was at work and son Tony was at school.
One day, a real estate agent knocked on their door to introduce her business. Annie took a quick look at the agent’s flyer and told her that she could design a better one that would improve her sales pitch. She did! The agent liked the design she proposed and decided to go for it. What followed the sale of her first professional design work was the founding of Annie’s first business venture, GrafxWorx. Shortly thereafter, every agent from the RE/MAX office in Northridge was knocking on the Safoian door to place orders for Annie’s creative design for their business promotional campaigns.
In 2003, Annie and Hovig merged GrafxWorx with SADA Systems, and their son Tony joined the business. Their major breakthrough occurred in 2007, when the company became one of seven launch partners with Google. SADA has grown 30 to 45 percent every year since. Tony was appointed president and CEO in 2003, while Hovig is the chairman of the Board and Annie serves on the Board and continues to actively work for the company. SADA has grown to a staff of 200+ employees across eight offices in North America, and was recognized as Google’s 2018 Global Partner of the Year. In addition, SADA was named to CRN’s Solutions Provider 500 List and to the Elite 150 List of managed service providers. As an INC5000 Honoree, SADA ranked on INC5000 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies for 12 years, and ranked on Inc. Magazine’s Top 50 Best Places to Work. Annie’s family venture was also named to Los Angeles Business Journal‘s Top Women-Owned Businesses in LA.
Annie Safoian truly embodies the message embedded in the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign of the American University of Armenia. She believes that “Education is a tool for success. It gives you independence, opportunity, and confidence. These are the values instilled in me by my parents,” she asserts. With two successful sisters, Annie is surrounded by robust Armenian women and is the proud grandmother of two granddaughters, Isla and Emme, who are also excelling in technology.
In December 2019, Annie served on the panel at an event promoting AUA’s “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” scholarship campaign, hosted by Vahe and Ruzan Kuzoyan in Southern California. Annie shared her success story with the attendees, inspiring many women to follow their passion. Recalling that evening, she adds: “It was very educational for me. I learned how other leaders in the field are helping the cause [of female empowerment and gender equality], what the pain points are, and where more support is needed.” She stressed the significance of education for girls and young women, the need for empowerment, and the importance of authenticity and resilience.
With the generous donation and establishment of the Safoian Family Scholarship Endowment Fund at AUA, Annie and her family are determined to support young women studying computer science and engineering, annually, in perpetuity.
Every Armenian can relate to this story. “If we work together, we can accomplish a lot. We, Armenians, are survivors. We are smart people with good work ethics, and we will succeed,” Annie affirms. “We just need a little push or opportunity.” Annie is offering that little push and opportunity to other bright young women in Armenia, who share her intellectual curiosity for STEM and are driven to succeed by pursuing their educational goals at AUA. “I don’t live in Armenia, but Armenia is very close to my heart,” Annie says. “I think about Armenia every single day. I will always help whenever I can.”
For those students and all women in Armenia, Annie offers this advice: “Believe in yourself and don’t stop challenging yourself and learning. Success comes from passion.” And most importantly, “Yes, you can!”
Make your own contribution in promoting women in STEM by donating to the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign.
Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values. For more information about AUA and its donor opportunities, please visit the website.