For 40 years, MIT was a faint if distant memory while Alex d'Arbeloff devoted himself to building Teradyne into a $1.2 billion success story as the world's largest producer of automatic test equipment for the electronics industry. Since then, he's made up for lost time.
Mr. d'Arbeloff (Class of '49), who became chairman of the MIT Corporation on July 1, was urged by friends to become more active at his alma mater and was elected a member of the Corporation in 1989. He has been thankful to them ever since for expanding his horizons to include a renewed appreciation of MIT's value to society. Those friends included former Chairman David S. Saxon (SB '41, PhD) and Raymond S. Stata (SB '57, SM), founder and CEO of Analog Devices, an active alumnus and a Life Member of the Corporation.
"They did me a big favor--they woke me up," Mr. d'Arbeloff said during a recent interview. "I'm grateful. It was a great honor to be asked to be a Corporation member and it's an even greater honor to be named Chairman. I'm both pleased, and amazed that they asked me."
Mr. d'Arbeloff, 69, had five jobs in 10 years before he founded Teradyne in 1960 with his MIT classmate, Nicholas DeWolf. While he notes obvious differences in the motivations driving academia and business, he is more interested in the things the two worlds have in common.
"In both cases you begin with talented people," he said. "Then you have to develop an effective organization and instill a sense of mission. You have to strive to win. And ultimately you have to provide something of value for society."
Mr. d'Arbeloff retired as Teradyne's CEO at the company's annual meeting in May but continues to serve as the chairman of the board and is still an employee of the company, which is based in Boston. Mr. d'Arbeloff will devote at least 50 percent of his time to his MIT duties, which will include fund-raising and entail some traveling. He will chair his first Corporation meeting in September.
"This is a great institution," Mr. d'Arbeloff said. "MIT has a great impact on the United States and on the world. Whatever little I can contribute, it will be well worthwhile."
The chairman of the Corporation has traditionally been a former MIT president who serves full-time in that position, in contrast to the practice at most colleges and universities, where the chair is a trustee who serves part-time. Mr. d'Arbeloff succeeds Dr. Paul E. Gray, MIT's 14th president and seventh chairman.
Mr. d'Arbeloff was elected to life membership in the Corporation in 1994. He has also served on the Corporation's Development Committee and on the visiting committees for the Department of Economics and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and he has served as chairman of the visiting committee for the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Mr. d'Arbeloff also endowed a chair in mechanical engineering, which is currently held be Profesor Alex Slocum. He has taught at the Sloan School of Management and teaches a course he developed on management and entrepreneurship for graduate students in mechanical engineering.
Mr. d'Arbeloff became Teradyne Chief Executive in 1971 and served as chairman and president until 1996. Under his leadership, the company's annual sales increased from $13 million to $1.2 billion.
Mr. d'Arbeloff is a director of Stratus Computer, PRI Automation, BTU Corporation, Sematech, and several private companies. He is also a director and former chairman of the Massachusetts High Technology Council and a director of the Center for Quality of Management. He is a trustee of Partners Health Care System, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the New England Conservatory.
Mr. d'Arbeloff, whose parents were Russian, was born in France and lived in Paris and South America before his family moved to the United States when he was 11 years old. "English was my fourth language," he recalls. Mr. d'Arbeloff spent his adolescence in the New York area before coming to Massachusetts in 1945 to attend MIT.
His wife, Brit, an aspiring novelist whose career has run a gamut from engineering to ownership of a Newbury Street boutique, received her master's degree in mechanical engineering from MIT in 1961. She is a member of the visiting committee on linguistics and philosophy. Both d'Arbeloffs are active supporters of the arts in the Boston area.
Brit d'Arbeloff, who graduated first in her mechanical engineering class at Stanford in 1957, delivered a memorable address at the MacVicar Fellows annual luncheon last spring. After telling several anecdotes about the role teachers had played in her life, she saluted the MacVicar Fellows as teachers who make a difference. "It's time we acknowledge the real heroes of our society," she said. "I leave you my favorite comment on teaching, from William Blake: 'Teaching we learn, and giving, we receive.'"
The d'Arbeloffs, who live in Brookline, have four children, three of whom live in California. The fourth, Kate, runs a clothing store in the Netherlands.
(Editor's note: this web version incorporates some updated information not in the printed version)
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 16, 1997.