SAN JOSE – If you ask Steve Ionis where he’s from originally, he’s likely to reply that there’s no such thing as “original”—an apt response from a man whose upbringing took place in various spots around the world. Steve was born in Shanghai, China, his parents having emigrated from Russia several years prior. Soon after his birth, the rise of Mao Zedong compelled them to relocate to the recently formed state of Israel, where the family resided for six years before moving again, this time to Tokyo, Japan. After he graduated high school, Steve spent three years in the Israeli army, following which he briefly attended college in Boston before moving to Canada to work for his father. Eventually, he found himself in the United States, ready to embark on an entirely new path.
While his company has been Diamond Certified for eight years, Steve himself became certifiably acquainted with the precious stone some years earlier, when he worked as a traveling diamond salesman in the early 1980s. “There was a period of time when people were buying diamonds as an investment, so I spent about four years traveling throughout the western United States as a representative for a diamond cutting business,” he remembers. After the diamond craze tapered off, Steve switched to real estate, which is the job he was doing when he first heard of Rayne Plumbing and Sewer Service—the company he would eventually buy in 1986.
While it may have seemed an unlikely move, Steve’s transition to owning a plumbing business actually made perfect sense. When the previous owner of Rayne Plumbing called him about putting the business up for sale, Steve sensed a golden opportunity. “After talking with him awhile, I thought, ‘You know something? I could run this business,’” he recalls. The owner replied that he actually preferred the idea of a non-plumber owning the company—someone with business acumen and the ability to delegate authority and communicate with customers. After thinking it over for the weekend, Steve called first thing Monday and offered to buy the company. Today, nearly 30 years later, he’s still running it.
When not in the office or at a business meeting, Steve spends most of his time relaxing on his boat in the South San Francisco Bay, where he’s been residing for the past decade. “I’ve also been working on a nonfiction story for about six years,” he adds. “I don’t write full-time, so it’s taking a while, but I hope to finish it in the near future.” Steve also likes to keep up with his three sons, who are pursuing their own careers in Los Angeles, Oregon and San Francisco.
Steve sees no reason to retire anytime soon, but when he does, he’ll probably spend some more time traveling, though not abroad. “I’d like to take off for three or four months to see some more of the United States,” he says. “Honestly, I don’t know why people travel elsewhere—it’s much better here anyway.”