Chris Stern ‘93 may have taken a nontraditional route from civil engineering student at the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering to his current position as strategy and corporate development executive for a multibillion-dollar tech firm, but he says the relationships he built at Loyola Marymount University and the fundamentals he learned here have supported him every step of the way.
“What you get out of the engineering school is what they call the engineer’s mindset. It’s a methodical approach to addressing and solving problems, and it’s very relevant, regardless of the career path or the industry that you’re in,” said Stern. “I happened to go into technology and startups.”
Stern began on a traditional path, accepting an engineering internship during his sophomore year at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). At the same time, he pursued a burgeoning interest in technology. “My first business contract was with LMU. [Emeritus Faculty] Dr. Mulvihill hired me in the summer to work with IT and help install the first civil engineering computer lab.”
After graduation he went to work full-time at LADWP, where he realized field workers lacked technology that could significantly improve their productivity. Stern applied the engineer’s mindset: “I found a problem, I looked at the available solutions, I ultimately determined there wasn’t one. Someone was going to have to create it, so I figured, why not me?”
In 2000, Stern left LADWP to start Spacient Technologies, providing software to the mobile utilities workforce. When it was time to take the leap from employee to entrepreneur, Stern looked to his LMU connections.
“LMU support was definitely a factor,” said Stern. “When I left and took that risk—quit my job, left to go start this company—I wanted to know there were real people who would buy this software. That’s where Dr. Kendall from LMU, my former professor who was now a general manager running one of the utilities, came in. He was a great supporter. I ran this by him, this solution… He validated that the need was there, and he became my first customer.”
Six years later, global GPS-pioneer Trimble Navigation bought Spacient and brought Stern onboard. Stern rattles off a long list of LMU relationships that were instrumental in his education and career development—from former professors to fellow students. “Every one of them had an impact and helped me in different ways. Those relationships, those personal interactions, are very unique to LMU.”
For Stern, the LMU support system goes both ways. When he started Spacient, he hired LMU students. At Trimble, he facilitated equipment and software donations for LMU programs in environmental research, surveying and Engineers Without Borders. Today, he remains deeply connected, giving back time and expertise wherever he can, including speaking to former classmate Dr. Jeremy Pal’s engineering students. “I try to make sure they are thinking about the future and motivated to develop and pursue their passions,” said Stern. “There’s a strong network that students can explore throughout their time there, and for me it had a lot of value. I highly suggest that students take advantage of that.”