Logo: University of Southern California

5+ Questions for Brandon Blaylock

Answers from one of this year's Tommy Award winners

July 30, 2014 —
IMG 1261
Brandon Blaylock '79, MS '83, the president and CEO of AIRMALL USA, Inc. and Partner of Faros Infrastructure Partners, LLC, is one of this year's Tommy Award winners. Photo by Danielle Faitelson.

How does it feel to have been selected for a Tommy Award and how was the event? 

I was truly honored, and surprised, to have been selected to receive a Tommy Award. The event was fantastic and showcases the multi-talented nature of the Trojan Family. Kudos to the USC Alumni Club of New York for hosting this wonderful event.

Since this is the Tommy Awards (USC's quasi-version of the Tony Awards), if you had a Broadway-style song and dance number created specifically for you, what would it be called and what would it look like?

Well it might be called Fight On in New York, New York and be a medley of Fight On and New York, New York. The lyrics to both songs have meant a lot to me. (As a Trojan Knight, I had to commit the lyrics to Fight On to memory) As to choreography, I would leave that to the experts.

Many USC Viterbi alums have commented that the school taught them not just how to be an engineer, but how to think - how to process the world and solve problems. Is there a specific example of that playing out in your own life?

I wholeheartedly concur with the premise of the question. USC Viterbi does indeed teach its students to be great engineers and how to think and how to process the world and solve problems on multiple levels. I think Viterbi provides the optimal mix for today's student who wants to lead technical organizations and companies. Viterbi provides world-class engineering education coupled with the vast resources and college experience of USC. This combination is unbeatable in giving the engineer the necessary technical skills plus the social and people skills to succeed and lead anywhere in the world.

After graduation, I started as an engineer with Exxon (now Exxon Mobil) in oil and gas production, and was steadily promoted to leadership positions there and then headed to the world of finance and private equity for infrastructure projects and companies. My USC Viterbi experience was invaluable for this career path. The school sets you up to be successful and be able to interact effectively at all levels of an organization or government. I found that my engineering skills were vital to building a strong and credible foundation for my field. On top of that, I added finance, accounting, marketing, tax, legal, HR, diplomacy, negotiating, and leadership skills. The beginnings to this second skill level were obtained while I was at USC.

How would you describe your experience at USC Viterbi?

My time at USC Viterbi was one of the best experiences of my life. I always knew that I wanted to attend USC, and would not have changed anything. I credit a family friend, Ed Bennett (Viterbi Class of 1951) as my early inspiration to attend USC. I was fortunate to have been the president of the local ASCE chapter and the president of the Engineering Student Council. The other thing I would say is that Viterbi is a family and encourages its students to succeed. Finally, I must say that one of my favorite Viterbi classes (during my masters program in petroleum engineering) was Fluid Flow Through a Porous Medium taught by a young professor named Yannis Yortsos.

IMG 2296
Tommy Awards. Photo by Danielle Faitelson.

What keeps you motivated to stay involved at USC Viterbi?

I credit Max Nikias and Yannis Yortsos for getting me even more involved in Viterbi. While he was the Dean of Viterbi, Max went out of his way to meet me early one morning in Stamford, Connecticut. I'll never forget that. Janet and I were honored to join Yannis and Sheryl this year as Yannis received an Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Max and Yannis are great leaders and truly inspirational.

Now that my daughter, Courtney, will be a Viterbi student this fall, I am even more focused to help the school succeed and prosper. I want to see Viterbi, and USC, achieve the greatness for which they are both destined.

As a footnote, Courtney had other great options and chose USC Viterbi on her own after careful consideration and evaluation. This was a firsthand experience for me to see just how attractive Viterbi is to today's students. Living in the east, I get multiple inquiries about USC and Viterbi from the parents of prospective students. Our school is hot and getting hotter.

Of all the professional and personal experiences you’ve had in your life, what has been the most meaningful, and why?

One particularly rewarding professional experience was closing the first private power project in Mexico in 1996 when I was at GE. Other large companies had failed to close such a project and many thought we would never make it. The project was called Samalayuca, but many in Mexico referred to it as Samalaynunca (Nunca means never in Spanish). This $650 MM 600 MW gas-fired combined cycle power plant is located in Northern Mexico. In fact, Ernesto Zedillo , then president of Mexico, attended our closing celebration. I was unable to attend, but had a good excuse. Courtney was born on the same day. My older daughter, Kelly (a junior at the University of San Diego) was born in Mexico while we lived there and I was working on Samalayuca. We had a great team, led by GE that included Bechtel, El Paso Natural Gas, and ICA (Mexico's largest construction company). We still get together as a team from time-to-time. My Faros Infrastructure co-founder and partner, Jaime Guillen (BS Nuclear Engineering - MIT; MBA - Stanford), was the Bechtel representative on the team.

Now that your daughter has been accepted at USC Viterbi, what advice do you have for her that she probably won’t take?

OK answering this question will probably get me in trouble. I would advise Courtney to continue the academic diligence and discipline that she demonstrated in high school and which led her to engineering and to Viterbi. I think she'll take that advice. But, I would also advise her to take full advantage of all that USC has to offer...and have some fun! She earned it. I hope she takes that advice too.

IMG 1058
Courtney Blaylock (USC Viterbi class of 2018), Kelly Blaylock (USD class of 2016), Janet Blaylock (USC Dornsife '84), Brandon Blaylock (USC Viterbi '79 and '83). Photo by Danielle Faitelson.