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One-on-One with Brian Wong

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Brian Wong, CEO of Trilumina, is a cool guy. He has a huge smile, slicked-back curls and an easy-going personality. He loves cars, rock ‘n’ roll and James Bond. He looks comfortably clad in the “sports coat and jeans” look that is so popular in the world of tech company CEOs. And to top it off, he works with lasers.

For 17 years, he has helped startup technology companies find focus and become profitable. His latest venture is Albuquerque’s Trilumina.

Trilumina does a lot of super-smart tech stuff but what it boils down to is this: It takes the laser sensors used on self-driving cars and uses semiconductors to make the technology smaller, more reliable and more affordable.

Wong is a California boy, but he and his wife, Leslie, are enjoying the Albuquerque lifestyle. They like the outdoors and are looking forward to their first balloon fiesta.

At the same time, Wong is working hard to make Trilumina an international company with planned offices in Asia. He gives talks to technology companies around the world about the future of lasers and self-driving cars.

When did Trilumina begin?

Its first funding was 2013. They were founded in 2011, but you know those early days are always a bunch of engineers trying to figure out what they are going to do. But the institutional funding, which allows the deployment of the technology, started in 2013. So I joined a little less than a year ago, November of last year.

How long have you being doing what you are doing?

So I’ve been in tech for 34 years. It’s hard work. It’s hard physically. I just got back Friday from a two-week Asia trip. (It was) a different city every day. I was in Japan, then China, then Shanghai, then to Taiwan, then back home. All in 11 days, but it’s two days’ travel to get there.

It’s a physical, emotional and intellectual endeavor, a startup. And that’s what these are, these are international companies, every company I’ve run. We have offices internationally, typically. This one doesn’t yet, but we are going to have to open one in Asia as well.

Sounds exhausting but also pretty cool.

Yeah, I just got back. I am still jet-lagged.

But I’m 56, and a first-born from immigrants. My dad is from China, and my mom is from Hong Kong. I learned Chinese when I was young. My dad … worked at Lockheed and got a security clearance and so he couldn’t go back, ever, to China, until he retired.

And same here. I had a security clearance for 17 years. The first half of my career was at TRW (a safety and technology company), working on satellite communications for classified satellites. Then I immersed myself in the startup world, and all of the sudden it’s just an international game.

So Trilumina brought you to Albuquerque?

I left (TRW) after 17 years, and my first startup company was Primarion. I started as vice president there and ended up as CEO. That’s where I connected with Emcore (in Albuquerque).

The next company was based in Austin, and it was called D2 Audio. I got recruited as a follow-on CEO. The company had started, got revenue, kind of stalled. And so I was hired to focus the strategy, get it profitable and it was digital control of audio.

Then, after that, when I was in Texas, I was chairman of Austin Technology Council, which is this nonprofit. I was working with the university. I was on the independent board of a bunch of power management companies.

I got recruited back to California to be CEO of a company called Enevate.

(Then) around June of last year, I started looking at another area that interested me and I got a call from a recruiter about Trilumina. And it turns out a lot of the same engineers worked at Emcore, back in the day. When I was at Primarion, we partnered with Emcore. So it kind of (fit) the bill.

So you attended UCLA and USC? Are you a Bruin or a Trojan?

Bruins! You always go with your (undergraduate school). You spend four or five years fighting the Trojans and then your friends go like “What?! USC?” Luckily, a lot of us ended up doing that because there are those that had their company pay for it. They are both great schools, but my heart is a Bruin.

Are you aware your Bruins stole Steve Alford from the Lobos?

That’s right! And his son is great, too. I didn’t really realize that until I started at Trilumina.

What do you do for fun?

Well, I personally like cycling. And you know, fitness. When I’m in LA, I like the beach. There is not a lot of time when you are a CEO. But what Leslie and I like to do is cooking, food, wine. I just discovered Total Wines last week. And we like traveling.

Have you tried some of the mountain bike trails here?

Yeah, I do have a mountain bike, I should probably bring that out (to Albuquerque). The problem is (my apartment) is kind of wall-to-wall. But one of the main things about living close as a CEO is you can just work all the time.

What’s your favorite movie?

I’m a real James Bond freak. “Dr. No” was my first movie.

Who is your favorite Bond?

Well, we all have a little James Bond in us, I think. But it’s hard to beat Sean Connery because he was the first. But I do like Daniel Craig.

That’s the correct answer.

(laughs) Yeah, with Brosnan they got a little too comedic. Roger Moore started that and then Dalton dropped all of the comedy. Craig brought it back a little.

But when you are my age and you see a movie when you are 3 and they are still making them today, that’s pretty amazing.