Entrepreneur Fadi Chehade Creates Companies as ‘Oases, Not Fortresses’
Fadi Chehade ’85CS was 17 when he told an American consular official in Beirut he wanted to go to America to learn English and to find out why the country was so great. Since that day in 1979, his life has been an eloquent answer to that question. His enviable education, brilliant career and entrepreneurial success are a powerful testament to the American Dream.
Since earning his computer science degree at NYU-Poly (followed by a master’s degree in engineering management from Stanford), Chehade has created and led three successful companies: information-technology firms Connectica and Viacore in 1988 and 2000, respectively, and RosettaNet, a non-profit organization-management company in 1998.
In 2007, Chehade invested in a start-up company, Vocado, because he believed in its mission to serve post-secondary institutions by creating education-management systems. “I love education,” he said. “A year ago, the Vocado board asked me to step in, lead the company, and take it on a growth path. I accepted and I’m having a great time.”Chehade – who lives in Los Angeles with his wife Sue ’85EE, an engineer, and their college-aged sons, Marc and Philip – is exceptionally enthusiastic about life and business in the United States. “Frankly, America has exceeded my boyhood imagination of a place where everything is possible,” he said. “Here, instead of hindering and limiting you, the system – society, laws and finance – helps you grow and achieve.”
Chehade embodies the NYU-Poly philosophy of i²e: innovation, invention and entrepreneurship. In creating Connectica, he said he wanted to “leverage my fluency with languages and cultures to help U.S.-centric software developers grow their global markets. It was my first business and a learning pad for me.” Working with his brother Adel, whom he called a “brilliant” chief operating officer and chief financial officer, Chehade built the company into a multi-million dollar operation with offices around the world.
As Coptic Christians, Chehade’s parents were part of an oppressed minority in Egypt. To escape discrimination, his parents moved to Ethiopia before he was born and later to Lebanon. When the Lebanese civil war started, his father, who did not believe in bearing arms, was afraid his son might be conscripted into military service. In fact, young Fadi was abducted in the middle of the night by Christian militiamen. His father got him out of the militia camp, into Syria, then to safety with his grandparents in Cairo. He was eventually able to return to Beirut to finish high school.
Chehade’s experience as an uprooted, multi-national seeking freedom has influenced his approach to creating businesses as well as how he operates his companies. “My place in the world,” he said, “is to create companies, communities and ecosystems that are ‘oases’ that attract others, not fortresses that exclude people. My boyhood experiences taught me the basic life lessons that continue to guide my path and career. I never waver from my core beliefs and principles and I deeply value freedom of expression, thought and association with others.”
RosettaNet, the second company Chehade founded, exemplifies that philosophy. The non-profit consortium establishes standard processes for sharing business information among hundreds of major information-technology companies, with the goal of increasing profitability. Recognizing the “atomization” of production chains led him to found Viacore. “Companies were struggling to keep their business and manufacturing partners and suppliers all synchronized,” he said. “Viacore was born to address this very complex ‘new’ industrial problem, which we did for giants like Cisco, HP and The Gap.”
Professor George Schillinger in NYU-Poly’s Technology Management department helped the new immigrant when he arrived in Brooklyn. “He was generous, attentive and brilliant,” Chehade said. “He expanded my mind, helped me dream, guided me in the most personal and delicate way toward a bright future, and then helped me get into Stanford. I remain indebted to him and to Poly.”
What would this successful entrepreneur tell young people in other countries about the American Dream? “It's real,” Chehade said. “Very real. My first sales assistant, who is from Lebanon, is now an executive in a Fortune 100 company. My last office gofer, who came here from Mexico, is now an IT director. This does not happen anywhere else in the world.”
“Despite the stereotypes, Americans remain the most embracing of all people. I can fill a small book with stories of people I never knew who helped me advance on my journey, since the first day I landed in America. They are a thousand points of light, for which I am very grateful.”