Retired President, Power Line Systems
MSCEE ’66, PhDCEE ’68
Each year, the College of Engineering recognizes outstanding alumni during Engineers’ Day—a celebration of engineers, held on Homecoming weekend. Alain was among 10 engineers to receive awards in 2017 at an Oct. 20 banquet.
We honored him for exemplary achievements as a structural engineer, faculty member, entrepreneur, philanthropist and UW-Madison alumnus.
Recently, we chatted with Alain about everything from his memories as a student at UW-Madison to his career and his family. Here are his responses to some of our questions.
How did you choose to attend college at UW-Madison?
It was complete random luck. I was born in France during World War II. My parents moved to the tropical island of Madagascar when I was 4 and I grew up there until the end of high school. Then I went to Paris to study engineering. Since one of my goals was to improve my English skills, I looked for ways to spend one year in the U.S. between my junior and senior years. I found a technician job in a physiology research lab at the UW Hospital. My boss told me that I could attend one class at the UW each semester. I selected a newly developed course from Professor C.K. Wang on computerized matrix methods in structural engineering. I did very well in that course and Professor Wang recommended that I return to Madison for graduate studies after graduating from my engineering school in Paris, and offered to sponsor me. I did so in the fall of 1965.
What’s your fondest memory of your time on campus?
The best thing I remember is all the time I spent at the Union with friends—interacting with graduate students from all specialties and countries, and obviously spending time with my future wife, Jill, who was studying French at the time. The international flavor of the campus is still one of its unique strengths. You can interact with all different people, you know, whether it be liberal arts, or history, or science.
How did your experience in the College of Engineering shape your career path?
I had never thought of being a university professor before coming to graduate school in Madison. I just wanted to be an engineer. When I got close to getting my PhD, I realized that the academic life was a great option because I could still be an engineer but yet I would have the freedom of doing what I wanted. I would be defining my own research. After getting my PhD in 1968, I returned to France to serve as a 2nd Lieutenant in its Anti-Aircraft Artillery. It was during my military service that I received an offer to come back to Madison as an assistant professor, starting in 1970. I did not hesitate.
What professional accomplishment makes you most proud?
Becoming a professor at the University of Wisconsin gave me the opportunity to conduct research and advance the state-of-the-art in several areas of structural engineering, including the structural design and behavior of high-voltage electric power lines with talented graduate students. The technical knowledge and industry connections that I acquired at the time became essential in the success of the company Power Line Systems that I founded and to which I devoted all my time after I retired from the university in 1997. Power Line Systems is now the worldwide leader providing software to design, construct and manage high voltage electric power lines. It is used in over 1600 companies in more than 125 countries.
What are your hobbies/interests?
History, geography, international cultures, cars. I read a lot of books and newspapers. I have been very fortunate to travel extensively throughout the world during my entire life and, since I retired, to spend several months each year in southern France with my wife, Jill.