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Former Politico Makes Community Impact in New Ways
By Guest Reporter :: Monday, March 1, 2010 :: 53443 Views :: Chaldean American Professionals

California, USA - From his sixth floor executive office window, Sam Attisha has an unobstructed view of the action on the Padres home field at Petco Park, which, by the way, is 7,713 miles from where Attisha was born 42 years ago — in the fabled, now troubled, capital of Iraq, Baghdad.

Attisha is vice president of business development and external affairs for Cox Communications San Diego.

He was recently named one of San Diego’s Top Influentials by The Daily Transcript newspaper, a plaudit he appreciates, but had to laugh, “It still doesn’t get me much influence over my three boys and my wife.”

Attisha is a combination of outgoing (“You have to be in this job”) and laid-back (enjoying hanging out with his three young sons). He’s tall, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, with brown eyes, olive complexion, and a bald, neatly shaved head.

And, on the wall behind his desk, hangs a large acrylic action-painting of one of his heroes, retired Padres super slugger Tony Gwynn.

Attisha arrived in the U.S. 39 years ago when he was going on 3 years old. His parents, devout Chaldean Catholics, emigrated with him from the predominantly Muslim Iraq in search of a better life.

After briefly experiencing a Michigan winter, they settled in El Cajon where Attisha’s father, who had a business degree, eventually opened a grocery store at 47th and Market, a neighborhood that became known as “gang central” in that East County town.

“Thankfully,” Attisha said, “the area got better over the years.

“I worked there a couple of summers and I saw the enormous amount of stress my father took to work every day. It was very difficult, leaving the house at 5:30 – 6 in the morning. My dad was a butcher, so I would go in and I’d be taking big 100-pound boxes of meat and moving them from one freezer to another. Twelve-fourteen hour days were customary. And it was a seven-day a week operation.

“There I realized pretty quickly that education was my ticket to move. I was going to do whatever it took to learn and prosper and grow.

“It wasn’t that I was afraid of the hard work, or the environment, or the hours. It was my dad really showing me that if…you have a great [educational] background, if you have some good skills, if you have the opportunity to use your talents in different ways, there are other ways to earn a living and make an impact on the community.”

In elementary and middle school, he admits to being “precocious.” Thinking he could benefit from more learning discipline, his parents enrolled him at Christian High, a Baptist-affiliated private school in El Cajon where, in addition to applying himself to his studies, he sprouted to well over 6 feet, 200-plus pounds and played football and basketball.

Also, he recalled, “I grew up in a very giving household, very focused on and involved in our growing Chaldean community. My dad and my mom were very generous people and so that kind of focus on service really challenged me to get more involved and as I did, I realized one area that really fascinated me was politics.”

In high school and at USD, he was elected student body president and for several years, on and off, he interned for Republican State Senator Jim Ellis in El Cajon.

After earning his undergraduate degree in business, he was selected to be a California Senate Fellow.

“I ended up working for Senator Wadie Deddeh (D) from San Diego. Wadie was a great guy. He really taught me a lot about the legislative process.”

“I spent three years in Sacramento and that’s where and when I got my M.B.A. [from California State University in 1993].”

Leaving Sacramento, he returned to San Diego and joined the office of Dianne Jacobs during her first term as a county supervisor. He worked for Jacobs for two years as her senior policy advisor.

He left Jacobs’ office to join Cox, initially in 1995, as the government and public relations manager in San Diego and briefly as national accounts manager at the company’s corporate headquarters in Atlanta.

Quick Facts

Name: Sam Attisha

Distinction: Recently named one of San Diego’s Top Influentials by The Daily Transcript newspaper, Sam Attisha is vice president of business development and external affairs at Cox Communications.

Born: Baghdad, Iraq, 42 years ago. He grew up in El Cajon.

Education: B.B.A., bachelor degree in business administration, University of San Diego, 1989; M.B.A., California State University, Sacramento, 1993.

Family: He and his wife, Shereen, a physician, have been married for 13 years. They have three sons, Alexander, 10, William, 8, and Michael, 5.

Current Reading: The Prophet, philosophical essays by Lebanese American writer, artist, poet Kahlil Gibran; Pursuit of Honor, a novel by Vince Flynn.

Interests: Traveling and doing “fun trips” with his family around San Diego.

Philosophy: “The glory is not in never failing, but by rising every time you fall.”

He had met his future wife, Shereen, in San Diego, through mutual friends, while she was here on spring break from medical school at Wayne State in Detroit.

She, it turned out, was also of Chaldean heritage.  They dated long-distance for about three years and he decided he would move to Michigan when she was accepted to do her medical residency at the University of Michigan.

He left Cox and moved to Michigan in June of 1996 just before he got married. He worked in Michigan as an executive with Comcast, Sprint, and Irdeto Access, until he returned to San Diego in 2007 to accept his current position with Cox Communications, now the third-largest cable television provider in the United States, serving 5.9 million customers.
Cox Communications San Diego system, with its 2,300 employees, also operates local cablecast channel, 4 San Diego, with broadcast rights for San Diego Padres’ games.

Whereas he once considered running for elective office in order to make a difference and impact people’s lives, the way he looks at it now, he has the perfect job to do just that.

“I think where I am today, with the company I work for, the position I’m in, I have a very unbelievable opportunity to make that kind of impact because I’m working for such a first-class quality company that really is very interested and very focused on giving back to the community. I feel like we make a big difference.

“I get a lot of satisfaction at the organizations that we donate to, the organizations where we have employees on their boards, the organizations that we are able to partner with to improve the lives of San Diegans.”

What he finds annoying in politics, he said, is polarization. “It sometimes annoys me that people only think there is one way to see things basically when in essence there are a lot of ways to look at things … I don’t like ‘can’t’ and ‘no.’ I have kind of a ‘can do’ attitude.”

Asked his philosophy of life, he produced from his wallet a folded, handwritten note that his father gave him on Christmas 1981 when Attisha was a teen.

It reads: “Remember my son, the glory is not in never failing, but by rising every time you fall.”  “That’s my philosophy,” he said.

By Arthur Lightbourn,  Rancho Santa Fe Review