Mark Levitin is the CEO and founder of OpticsPlanet, an online supplier and retailer of technical and high-performance gear. OpticsPlanet was founded in 2000 and has since been recognized as a leading online retailer by Inc. Magazine and Internet Retailer Magazine. Mark studied engineering in the Soviet Union, where he worked as a medical engineer prior to immigrating to the U.S. in 1989.
Sramana: Mark, let’s establish some background. Where do you come from?
Mark Levitin: I came to the U.S. in 1989 from the Soviet Union. My background is engineering, specifically medical engineering. I came to the U.S. in the pursuit of the American dream. It was the idea of making the best out of my life.
Sramana: Did you complete your education in the Soviet Union?
Mark Levitin: Yes, I completed all of my engineering education in the Soviet Union. I had been working as a medical engineer for a number of companies. I worked for the Ministry of Health as well as for Siemens, which is a large German multinational that has a significant footprint in the medical field as well.
Sramana: What did you do when you arrived in the U.S.?
Mark Levitin: I started looking for a job and worked hard to learn English. I spent some time figuring out how things work here. I started from scratch, just like millions of immigrants before me. It took some time to fit in, find a job, and find some friends. This was all in 1989. I was able to find a good job for an X-ray tube manufacturer as an engineer.
Sramana: What part of the U.S. did you live in?
Mark Levitin: I lived in Boston for a while and then I moved to Chicago. I worked as a biomedical engineer for three years. I then decided to start a business. I knew the medical products field, so I started a business importing Russian-made microscopes for educational and biomedical applications. The first container came over in 1991. I had to figure out how to market them and distribute them.
The factory that I was importing them from was one of the largest optical manufacturers in the world. They were located in St. Petersburg, Russia. I built a relationship with them and slowly started increasing the number of containers I was importing. I learned the marketplace, the product, and the applications. In 1995 I was able to arrange a deal with some other partners to become the exclusive distributor of their products in North America for LOMO. We became LOMO America Inc. We handled products for education, outdoor recreation, medical laboratories, and law enforcement. It was a very diverse product line because optics are used everywhere. We developed a line of telescopes, we had night vision products, and we had classroom microscopes. We had a line of medical grade optics that were used in research projects.