Kevin Leclaire: The More You Can Accomplish
by Xinyi Zhou '10
Kevin Leclaire ’91 graduated from the Magnet 20 years ago. He runs ISDR Consulting, providing investment advice to the space, satellite and technology sectors. But he also photographs ultimate Frisbee tournaments as owner of UltiPhotos.com, and has been heavily involved in the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and the Virginia Tech Foundation. Leclaire attributes keeping busy as a part of what he calls “the Magnet mantra: ‘the more you attempt, the more you can accomplish’”. Xinyi Zhou (‘10) asked him about the exciting things he does and how he balances his varied interests.
I had always thought space was cool, but the Magnet helped lay the groundwork for a lifelong interest in science. While at Blair, I began to envision working on “the big problems,” but I didn’t really connect the two until working after college when I discovered that I wanted to help advance the commercial space industry.
How’d you go from engineering and economics as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, to deciding that you wanted to attend Harvard Business School?
For me, business school served as a transition from simply learning and gaining work experience to working on what I wanted to do for the rest of my career. I’ve always thought that any big problem would require more than just engineering to solve and that an MBA would me help to understand the business component. While working at GE, I made the connection that the next stage of the human space story (people living and working off-planet) could begin in my lifetime and that I wanted to help make that happen. I believe that the financial and business components of the space industry are at least as important to the ultimate success of expanding humanity’s reach off-planet as space science and technology development. So I chose to pursue my MBA and dive deep into the space industry to figure out where I could best play a part.
What’s it like to start your own business?
It’s definitely a little like cliff diving or bungee jumping. Getting up the nerve to take the first step is the hardest part, but the rewards can be worth it. There’s a lot that goes into such a decision, but in any start-up, it really helps if you have a great team to work with—you will feed off of each other’s energy and enthusiasm and can achieve much more than the sum of the parts.
Virginia Tech Alumni Association
I had been a student leader at Virginia Tech—like many Magnet alums that I know, my college experience had a large dose of what I dub the Magnet mantra “the more you attempt, the more you can accomplish”. After I graduated, I kept in touch with people I knew at the University and was ultimately fortunate that they called on me to join the alumni board of directors.
I just completed my term on the board. I really enjoyed being a director and eventually President; it helped me to stay connected to my alma mater and was a very rewarding way to give something back to Virginia Tech. While on the Board, we were stewards and advisors for the Alumni Association, offering our experiences and skills to help the organization. In doing so we could help strengthen the Alumni Association so that it could better bridge the gap between alumni, the university, and the community.
PhotographyI’ve always enjoyed taking pictures when on travel, but it wasn’t until I got my first digital SLR camera that I really fell in love with photography. I had been playing Ultimate Frisbee for years and when I took some action photos with my new camera I was able to freeze the moment in a way that was impossible with a point-and-shoot. The ability to immediately view the photo and not be bound by limits imposed by film really appealed to me and I began to take my camera with me to other Ultimate tournaments. Eventually I got enough experience and posted enough photos that people started coming to me to offer to pay me to shoot their tournaments. I have now shot many of the top championships in the sport and recently got my first cover photo for the USA Ultimate magazine while shooting their collegiate national championships.I also really enjoy photographing wildlife and nature. Not only do I enjoy getting close to nature, but I feel as if I’m capturing its fleeting wonders. My photos can be found online at www.ultiphotos.com. Blair Magnet ExperienceIn 1987, I came to Blair as part of only the third Magnet class, so there were no senior Magnet students at the time. We were in the “Old Blair”, which at the time was the oldest public high school building in the county, if not the state. So things were understandably different. I’m sure the teachers were still feeling their way around this whole Magnet concept, but I doubt that we noticed much of this at the time.
What I did notice was that I was surrounded by students who wanted to learn and wanted to excel in and out of the classroom. My classmates made the experience rewarding and memorable—they were a unique blend of brains, talent, energy, creativity, philosophy, and quirkiness. The Magnet was an environment where one wouldn’t feel outcast for excelling in the classroom. In fact, in the early years, to a Magnet “not fitting in” might mean students were stressed that they couldn’t achieve at the same level as in their pre-Magnet days. Here, everyone was “gifted” and it was much more difficult to stay on the right side of the curve. As a result, we had a fairly high attrition rate back then (maybe 20-25%?)
The teachers were particularly memorable (Bunday, Steinkraus, Dyas, Piper, Donaldson, Walstein to name a few). They may have had different styles when it came to teaching, and whether we liked the style (or the teacher), it was easy to believe this was the best collection of teaching talent in the county. Many classes were more enjoyable for the dialogue that took place between interested students and engaged faculty (Quantum Physics, Geometry, and Calc I&II come to mind). The program was also beginning to gain notice for the awards that students were receiving in national and international competitions. However, what I found more remarkable was the simple fact that few students were limited by a rigid curriculum. They could take on whatever challenges they could handle, including a lot of college-level coursework. As a result, many of us could graduate with enough credit to be academic Sophomores the day we stepped onto a college campus.
Other aspects of the experience stand out, such as how we might “fit in” with the rest of the school, extracurricular activities (cross country, physics Olympics, etc.), and long bus rides back and forth from our homes. That gave us a lot of time to get to know other Magnet students, do homework, and listen to music.
These experiences certainly led to new friendships, imparted knowledge, prepared me for college academics, and helped shape my philosophy on life—all things one would hope could be gained from any high school experience. I think the Magnet experience especially influenced me to find my “inspiration” and to realize that no challenge is insurmountable if you can properly understand its nature.
How do you balance all of these interests?
Very carefully. Once you take on a full time career and start a family, it becomes much more difficult to “do everything” and maintain a healthy work/life balance. It helps that I really enjoy both my consulting work in the space industry and my photography work. Even so, I had to more diligently start setting and holding to priorities rather than continue to try to do everything. Unfortunately, there is a limit to the Magnet mantra.