2007 Distinguished achievement award: Stephen LeBeau

// Materials Science & Engineering

Tags: alumni, Engineers' Day, MSE E-Day, Stephen LeBeau

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Stephen E. LeBeau
President and CEO
Thixomat
PhDMetE ’82
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Stephen LeBeau grew up in Bark River, Michigan, a rural Upper Peninsula town so small that he jokes that the local chicken and cattle population outnumbered residents. However, there LeBeau became intrigued with engineering, after watching a film about engineering careers during his junior year in high school.

A year later he followed his older brother Dan to the Michigan Technological University (five other siblings also attended college, becoming the first generation in his family to complete post-secondary schooling). Initially, LeBeau focused on chemical engineering, but he so enjoyed a course in materials engineering his sophomore year that he switched majors and graduated with a degree in metallurgical engineering.

He completed graduate work at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and worked briefly for the Caterpillar tractor company in Illinois. While his job was satisfying, LeBeau recalls a gnawing inclination to complete his doctoral degree. Wooed by a number of prestigious engineering schools, he selected UW-Madison for its cutting-edge research, renowned faculty and strong engineering disciplines. LeBeau, a hockey fan since his college days in northern Michigan, also enjoyed cheering the Division 1 Badgers team.

After graduating in 1981, he spent nine years at the U.S. Steel and Babcock & Wilcox corporate research facilities, where he worked closely with their manufacturing divisions. He then shifted his focus to smaller high-tech companies located in the Detroit metro area, working his way into corporate management positions.

In 1998, LeBeau joined Thixomat Inc., which uses a patented technique for transforming magnesium chips into a smooth, pliable semi-solid. When heated nearly to its melting point, magnesium becomes a lightweight, yet strong, material that can be molded for use in a variety of consumer products, including computer housings, auto parts, fishing reel components, and high-end sun-glass frames. Thixomat has licensed the technology to more than 50 companies worldwide.

While living near Madison, LeBeau and his wife, Becky, purchased a two-person tent. As their family grew, they graduated to a pop-up trailer and continue to enjoy camping in northern Michigan with their children, including sons Andy, 25; David, 19; and Charlie, 7; and daughters Maria, 23, and Laura, 21.

LeBeau’s recreational pursuits in Madison also included a one-credit class in golf. He earned an A for the course, but muses: “My current handicap suggests I must have somehow misled my former professor with my potential golfing skills.”