My Big Move | Cypress Semiconductor
My Big Move
Hassane El-Khoury is a Consulting Advisor to Cypress and Infineon.
My story isn’t just a path to CEO, it’s a path to be the best version of myself. Welcome to my blog series #KnowOurCEO. The purpose of this series is to tell you a little bit about myself and what made me into the person I am today. If you missed my last blog, I shared a few stories about growing up in Lebanon. Despite growing up during a period of unrest, I quickly realized that I’d have to leave Lebanon to pursue my dream, but I couldn’t have done it without some help along the way.
“The foundation of course is from my parents, but the rest is from my experiences, good and bad, the friends I have, and the loved ones along the way.”
In 1996, I met my Uncle Joe and his family for the first time. Ultimately, he was one of my biggest supporters when I came to the U.S. He gave me more hope in my dream than I’d had before; he was my chance to continue down my desired path and for that I am forever grateful.
While still in Lebanon, Uncle Joe helped me apply to a few colleges in Michigan, where he was living at the time. I ended up getting into Lawrence Technological University, an engineering school that seemed to check every box I wanted. After being accepted, I had a hell of a lot to figure out in a short period of time.
At the time, there was no U.S. embassy in Lebanon, and given the geo-political climate, the consulate in Syria wasn’t really an option. My father and I ended up on a 4-seater Cessna to get to Cyprus. Yes - Cyprus. It might be fate. We showed up to the U.S. Consulate in Nicosia, Cyprus, where I had an interview to convince them why I deserved a student visa.
Up until this point, I studied at a French school and only had English lessons for about one hour per week. Funny as it is, if you can believe it, I think I learned most of my English from MTV - Beavis and Butt-Head was a staple in my English learning curve. I had to take the TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language. I was terrified, but somehow passed the test.
After the first interview, they told me that my application had to be reviewed. My heart sunk - we had no hotel, and I knew we had to get back to Lebanon. We decided to take our chances and waited around the corner in a café for what felt like forever. And then it happened - I got the phone call to come back for a second interview.
My father and I returned to Beirut that night. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. Here I was 17 years old, just graduated high school, holding a student visa and expected to start college in the U.S. in six days.
It seemed like up until this point, I was taking everything in small strides. Everything that just happened was a bit overwhelming and I found it easier to focus on achieving my goals with one step at a time. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the extent of how each goal would change my life.
I had left everything that was familiar to me and everyone I love, family and friends. Most who I did not even see before leaving.
When I moved to Michigan, I lived in a dorm room. It was very lonely for me at first, even though I had a very busy class schedule. The hardest thing was going from learning in French to learning in English. I remember my first calculus test. I had noted all the decimal points as commas – I guess you could say I learned the hard way that the two were not, in fact, interchangeable. That meant all of my answers were a factor of a thousand off. Lucky for me, the teacher understood and let me fix the test for a passing grade. It’s things like this that you don’t always notice, or even know to look for.
I spent the weekends getting to know my extended family through my cousin Tony and his family, which made the holidays easier and made me feel like I wasn’t so alone in the U.S. I started to make friends because I joined a fraternity – Sigma Pi. I never thought I’d join one, but as it turns out, they were different than what I’d seen on the news. People around campus came to know our little group as the 4.0 guys. It was funny because we were the geeks of the fraternity, but we had our priorities straight; we knew when to study and when to enjoy ourselves.
Being in the fraternity, I met a lot of alumni. Many of them had their own companies, while others worked at GM and Ford. It was inspiring to me - talking to them to see how they reached their goals and ways I could do the same.
College taught me a lot about culture. I was being exposed to cultures that got me out of my shell and built a portion of my personality that people see today. College also taught me about focus. I had to focus on my goals, despite distractions coming easily. Learning focus has been one of the hardest things to embrace. My foundation, of course, is from my parents, but all of my experiences and lessons learned shaped the person I am.
My focus came from one conversation with my dad. When I was all packed and ready to leave, he took me to the side and said: “Son, you decided to leave and therefore we have lost you either way.” He went on to explain: “If you are successful, you will not return, and if you get distracted and lose your way, you will also not return. The best outcome is for you to decide, on your own.”
I began a co-op at Continental Automotive Systems during my Junior year. I got the co-op after meeting a gentleman named Peter J. at an on-campus career fair. I walked into the career fair, resume in hand, nervous, but looking for my first real job. I walked up to Peter and he pulled out an album that contained photos of the lab, equipment and tools at Continental. I sat with him asking so many questions because I wanted to know what every tool in every picture was for. I was hungry for knowledge and he was patient and willing to answer everything. My excitement was palpable when I got the phone call I had been waiting for - I was hired.
Working at Continental, I learned a lot of applicability. It’s one thing in school to learn the material, but it’s another thing completely to learn real world applications. That perspective was imperative for me. I focused on learning as much as I possibly could. I had incredible mentors that helped show me the ropes: Tom H., Tim D., Mark K., Kurt P. to name a few.
After my co-op, I was offered a full-time position. I began working 7:00a.m. – 4:00p.m. and then going to school from 5:00p.m. to around 9:00p.m. or later. While I was still taking a full load of credits, I had to focus on getting my career started. I ended up letting go of most aspects of my social life, which kept me out of trouble. This new phase of my job was even better.
I started introducing microcontroller opportunities to automate anything I had to do more than once. That meant I could automatically test the units I had to manually test before.
That’s how I started my career: I learned computer programming, so that I could program and automate work I had to do in Excel. I taught myself how to create schematics and my own PCBs so I could go from concept to prototype in-house. I asked to go to conferences and take seminars to learn more about what I was interested in. Everyone was supportive of me at the time.
I learned early on that I had to drive my own growth and path to success.
Six months before I graduated, I went to my manager and asked him if they were interested in hiring me full time or if I had to start looking for a job. Within a week, they gave me a job offer - my first official offer letter. I don’t remember negotiating or even looking at it - I knew this was exactly the job I wanted.