interviewed by fellow T-bird, Anna Shen.
Alain Labat (‘80) is a true T-bird who has crisscrossed the globe. He hails from Toulouse, France, has worked in Tokyo, Paris and now lives in Silicon Valley. He was drawn to the program when he met the President of Midland International, Patrick O’Sullivan (’64) an alum who urged him to go to Thunderbird, saying that if he wanted a global career, Thunderbird was the place to go.
Alain has spent his career in tech at the highest levels. He began his career at Versatec, a Xerox company in Silicon Valley as an international trade specialist responsible for Canada and Latin America. Later, he was hired by Synopsys after he returned from his European assignment as vice-president of international operations. During his tenure he was promoted to senior vice-president of worldwide sales and marketing. He led the company during its successful IPO with Synopsys in 1992.
Given all his operational experience, he then decided to join Menlo Ventures, one of the oldest venture capital companies in the Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur partner for their technical software practice. The logical next step was to run some of the companies in their fund’s portfolio. He was appointed Chairman and CEO of Sequence Design; the company was eventually acquired by Ansys. His last technology start-up, VaST Systems was also acquired by his former company, Synopsys. After these extended management leadership experiences, he decided to start an investment bank: Harvest Management Partners (HMP). Soon after the inception, the Fiat Chrysler Automotive Group (FCA) signed up HMP as their advisors/bankers in the Valley. His latest endeavor is raising a fund to start investing in an incubator at UC Berkeley, which will make investments in new technology.
Q. What made Thunderbird special?
Thunderbird helped me fulfill all my goals and dreams; and it gave me this network that was very special. I wanted to get a true international experience. It allowed me to live in the US, Europe, Asia and Japan. The essence of Thunderbird gave me something that I could use, allowing me to develop operational and business skills. Thunderbird fit my outlook on business in general and is a huge part of my personal and family life. When I came to school, I was from France but from a rural area. In the US, I saw a different scale that was exciting.
I have friends from many years ago – recently, I had business trip to Brazil, I saw my old friend, Ronnie Moreira (’80) who invited me to his home for a wonderful Brazilian dinner. The Thunderbird mystique is alive. The relationships you develop are very lasting and very special. I am still friends with the players from the rugby team, and I have many friends, from New Zealand to Europe.
Q. What were your most memorable personal experiences during Thunderbird?
Driving from Phoenix to Mexico City to attend the wedding of our friend George Beckwith (’80) with Ronnie Moreira (‘80) and several friends from Brazil during our Easter break.
Meeting James Bowen, the son of my best friend, John Bowen (’80) from Auckland, NZ – a few days after his birth in November 1980, Our friendship is still very strong. James went to graduate from Annapolis and is now a Captain in the US Navy. They have become part of our family fiber and we all visit with their parents and grandparents. Very deep relationships are what make the school unique and keep the mystique alive.
Q. What was your favorite class in school?
International marketing. We had a study group and did a project for a company called Coherent Labs, in Palo Alto CA. I loved it because we worked on a real world project where we created an executive business plan. It was very real world – we worked with Coherent Management and they executed on our plan. It was very much on the ground and real world.
Q. What was the first impression you had when you got to campus?
It was January 1980, when I arrived everyone was watching the Super Bowl. Everything was new and I had not been in the US before. I drove across country and arrived on campus. There were orange trees in the middle of the desert.
Q. From a cultural standpoint, what was special about Thunderbird?
I had friends from Europe, Africa, and France, but when I came to Thunderbird, there were people from over 50 countries. Even if you are in a big university and state school, you don’t get that diversity. It was amazing to be on campus and talk to people from all over -- Asia, the US, and more. Truly, you are breaking barriers and transcending them. Everyone at school made you feel comfortable and thought about what you brought to the table. Fore example, in marketing class we had five different cultural perspectives. It was very powerful.
Q. What is your favorite country to do business in?
A. Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. I have spent a lot of time in Japan.