A Tribute to Alex d’Arbeloff, Boston Innovator and Visionary

I was very sad to learn that Alex d’Arbeloff, one of the towering figures of New England innovation, passed away yesterday at the age of 80.

In 1960, d’Arbeloff founded Teradyne with Nick DeWolf, a classmate from MIT. Working initially in a rented space above a downtown Boston hot dog stand, d’Arbeloff helped build the company into a leading manufacturer of semiconductor test equipment with more than $1 billion in revenues, ultimately stepping down as president and chairman in 1996. A 1949 graduate of MIT, he was a life member of the MIT Corporation and served as its chairman from 1997 to 2003.

As an investor, d’Arbeloff also helped found many area startups. He also served as chair of the board of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Many of us will remember him warmly presiding over Chairman’s Salon gatherings at the MIT Museum, where he helped shine a light on local startups and leading innovators.

Says Ed Roberts, professor of management of technology at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and founder of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center:

Alex was our dear friend and office neighbor at MIT Sloan. He co-taught with us for years on Corporate Entrepreneurship and shared the teaching of technological innovation and entrepreneurship with us for the past four years for our MIT Sloan Fellows Program. One absolutely unique characteristic of Alex, which benefited him, his many corporate associates, and his students, was that he had built Teradyne, a multi-billion dollar corporation, from scratch but he had also invested in and served on the boards for years of many important local high-tech startups including Lotus, Stratus Computer, PRI Automation and others. I served with Alex for many years as co-directors of Pegasystems and admired his insights, energy, integrity and devotion to his role as a corporate board member.

We will sadly miss his thoughtfulness, his immense knowledge, his humor, his loyalty and devotion to MIT and to education, and his friendship.

Ken Morse, managing director of MIT’s Entrepreneurship Center, says:

In 1996, he sponsored and paid for one of the two rooms which were the first home of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center. [The other was sponsored by Ed Roberts, of course]. Audrey [Dobek-Bell] and I were lucky enough to sit in those two little rooms for our first years on the job.

Alex often urged us to do more in entrepreneurship, and actively supported our cause. He also was the first prof/practitioner that I know of at MIT who tried to teach Engineering students how to sell. He also tackled the soft skills in his famous lecture on “how to give a raise.”

He often talked about surviving failure, and to get a discussion going he would skillfully employ his favorite tack of self deprecating humor: “Hey, I was fired three times. Since I couldn’t get or keep a job, it seemed like a good idea to start our own company…”

Another of his favorite ice breakers was his story of how he missed an alumni reunion at the Sigma Chi fraternity house because he got on the wrong airplane in Newark: “what kind of idiot would get on the wrong plane, and not know it? Well, I did, and I delayed lots of people…in addition to myself ….

Alex was deeply loved all over Boston, not only at MIT.

Howard Anderson, co-founder of Battery Ventures, founder of the Yankee Group, and a distinguished lecturer at the Sloan School:

I went to see Alex about a month ago. He had strong passions…MIT was clearly one of them. The other: Management. He taught one of my classes and you could see the drive to have good management force out bad thinking.He had a strong sense of how things should work.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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