Q & A with Lauds and Laurels Winner John Labib ´94

Jan. 19, 2017- John Labib, winner of this year’s Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumnus Award in Engineering, graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1994. The founder and principal of Los Angeles structural engineering design firm John Labib + Associates, he employs 49 engineers and three administrative professionals and has worked on a number of landmark projects. Labib was inducted last year into the inaugural Samueli School of Engineering Hall of Fame.  

Q: What made you decide to become an engineer?

 I love the practical aspects of being an engineer: critical thinking and solving problems.

Q; You moved to the U.S. from Egypt in the early 90s. Did you come specifically to attend UCI?

No, I had come to the U.S. the year before and loved it. I chose UCI because I wanted to stay in Southern California and the school fees were reasonable.

Q: You graduated magna cum laude. Was school easy for you?

The study of engineering came easy to me. My struggle was mainly because I had to support myself and raise enough money to pay for school and living expenses without taking any loans. I was working 20 hours for the structural engineering lab, 20 hours as a grader, and a full-time 40-hour security job at night. I knew that graduating with honors was going to open up doors for me and cement my future life in the USA. My back was against the wall and there was no looking back.

Q: Who were your mentors at UCI? How did they help you?

The late Dr. Medhat Haroun had the most impact. He knew that I had no resources so he helped by giving me as many jobs as I could handle on campus to support myself. His leadership and how sweet and gentle he was made a lasting impact on my life. He was truly a father figure to me during my tenure at UCI.

Q: What was your hardest class? How did you approach it?

Thermodynamics! Sorry, but I hated it. It was probably because it was so foreign to what I wanted to become as a structural engineer. I knew I just had to survive and do what it takes to get an A.

Q: What’s your fondest memory from your time at UCI?

The friendships that I made and my name being called as a magna cum laude while my dad was in the audience.

Q: Your firm has done seismic retrofit and renovation planning for several noteworthy projects, including UCI Hospital. How did it feel to be instrumental in such a large project for your alma mater?

It was a true honor to work on the UCI Hospital project. It was that much more special. Felt like I was working on designing my own home. Our office has worked on some fairly significant projects like the Getty Villa renovation, Dodger Stadium, and the Lakers and Clippers training facilities, but there's definitely something special about working on a project at UCI.

Q: What made you decide to open your own firm?

I have always known that I wanted to work for myself. I had a great learning experience at my previous firm and at the time, was managing a small office of 10 engineers. When the opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it and decided to take the risk and start my own firm. That has been the most rewarding decision I have made in my career.

Q: You serve as a mentor to young people. What do you try to impart?

I have been mentoring architectural engineering students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and would love to do the same for students from UCI. I generally try to help them with design projects, pointing them to practical aspects from the industry as well as instilling in them work ethics.

Q: What qualities do you think are most important to becoming a business success?

Dedication, hard work, exceptional technical background, a little luck and above all excellent customer service. Clients always come back because of the quality of the service they receive, and they never forget when you are there for them.

Q: How old are your children? Do they aspire to become engineers like their dad?

My son, Johnny, is 11 and my daughter, Colette, is 10. Johnny would like to be a chemist and Colette would like to be a dancer. The jury is still out if they want to become engineers.

Q: What advice would you give today’s engineering students?

Become an expert at whatever you do. Studying the code for example, while it might seem boring, is the foundation upon which their career is built. I tell all my younger engineers to be dedicated to the profession. It is a way of life and if you apply yourself, the sky's the limit. Engineering is not a 9-5 job!

Q: How does it feel to be named to the Hall of Fame and a Lauds & Laurels Distinguished Alumnus?

These honors are truly humbling. Hard work really pays off. Honestly, these honors and the success of the office is what makes me wake up every day and want to work even harder.

-- Anna Lynn Spitzer