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Tech entrepreneur Tony Fadell inspires at LAU

LAU students enjoy an engaging and interactive session with one of the creators of the iPod, iPhone, and founder of Nest.

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Dr. Jabbra and Tony Fadell during the Q&A session with the students.

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Students engage in conversation with Fadell as the event comes to an end.

Tony Fadell spent the last day of his brief stay in Beirut in the company of LAU students at the Beirut campus. A couple of hundred students were invited to enjoy an engaging and interactive session yesterday afternoon with the tech entrepreneur, known globally as the “father of the iPhone” and the founder of Nest, the company that pioneered the “internet of things”.

President Joseph G. Jabbra began the informal session with a few questions before inviting more from the students, most of who major in computer science, engineering or business. Asked about his impression of Lebanon as a potential tech hub, Fadell highlighted the lack of high quality internet in the country. “You are very resilient. If we in the U.S. had the kind of power cuts you do, we’d be going crazy. But you deal with it. You find solutions to the cuts and the lack of water. But you can’t get your own net,” said Fadell, adding that the poor infrastructure and the lack of accessibility to the ports was driving business and talent away.

Asked about the role of education in preparing students for the workplace, Fadell advised students to work during their time at university. “Don’t learn and then think you can do. Do and then learn, so you can decide what you need to study and not be learning based on someone else’s recipe.”

The entrepreneur and angel investor founded his own startup while in high school. He lauded the value of mentors while discussing his experience at the startup General Magic. “General Magic was the only place I took a job as opposed to created an opportunity for myself, but I knew I wanted to learn from the best, so I joined the best. I essentially wanted to gain a Ph.D. in how to run my own business.”

When told by one student that strong mentors were hard to come by in Lebanon, Fadell disagreed. “You have the environment here. Find it and sit in it. Don’t say you’re a victim of your circumstance. Focus on learning and be curious.”

An evident fan of analogies, Fadell, who moved around a lot as a child and recently moved to Paris to “give my children a different world view”, compared his style as a mentor and leader to parenting. “How you lead changes at different points throughout gestation. You’re hands on at first, then you delegate, then you inspire…. as soon as you figure out one stage, the needs change and it’s already past you.”

Among the many nuggets of wisdom Fadell shared with the students were two that first year computer science student Maya Moussa says impacted her greatly. “He told us to focus on solving our own local issues, and to not think about failure but focus instead of preparedness. I liked that.”

Also motivated was third year industrial engineering student Sarah Cattan, who looked as though a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. “Many people in my field go into consulting, but I see that as a job, not a career, and it doesn’t really appeal to me. When someone like Fadell agrees, it strengthens my belief in myself and my decision,” said Cattan, referring to Fadell’s statement that management consulting is the lamest thing graduates can do with their brains. “Don’t focus on money, else you’ll be busy chasing it. Be curious, work hard and make your own luck.”


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