Game Changer: Introducing Cal Alumnus of the Year, Kevin Chou

By Pat Joseph

A lot of people talk about giving back. Kevin Chou did it.

Along with wife Connie Chen, Chou ’02, gave $25 million to his alma mater to help build Haas-Berkeley’s 80,000-square-foot Chou Hall, which is now hailed as a “state of the art learning laboratory” for the renowned business school, and one of the greenest buildings in America.

This Thursday evening, Chou, son of Taiwanese immigrants, will be honored at the annual Berkeley Charter Gala as the 2019 Cal Alumnus of the Year, joining a long and varied list of luminaries including Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren ’12, industrialist Edgar Kaiser, ’30, writer Joan Didion ’56, restaurateur Alice Waters ’67, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak ’86.

At just 39 years of age, Chou is the youngest graduate yet to the receive the honor.

As it happens, he almost didn’t attend.

Chou had been accepted to Berkeley but didn’t think his family could afford it. Walking around campus on Cal Day, the young man feared it would be his only visit. But when he stopped by the financial aid office, an administrator named Richard Black restructured his aid package on the spot. Suddenly, Berkeley was viable.

“I told him that if I ever really make it, I’ll give back,” said Chou.

After graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a BA in business administration from Haas, Chou first became an investment banker at Deutsche Bank. After being laid off he reinvented himself as an Internet entrepreneur, eventually focusing on his childhood love, gaming.

In 2009, he launched online gaming company Kabam. Seven years later, after many ups and downs, he sold it for $800 million.

Speaking of UC Berkeley now, Chou says, “Cal is a symbol of many positive things for me. One of the most important is upward mobility. To this day I fly the Cal flag outside my front door to remind me of what it was like to grow up in a small town as immigrants,” and how Cal “helped me to reach my dreams today.”

At just 39 years of age, Chou is the youngest graduate yet to the receive the honor.

These days, Chou has shifted his focus to new cutting-edge endeavors including blockchain, as founding CEO of Forte Labs, and esports, as owner of Korean Overwatch team Seoul Dynasty. Chou, who grew up a loner playing early computer games on his dad’s IBM XT recently told CALIFORNIA, “It’s very surreal. To go from being a closet gamer to watching a whole generation cheer on, and aspire to be, gamer-athletes—we’ve all won.”

This year’s Charter Gala will be held at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Playhouse. Other honorees include Dado and Maria Banatao P ’96, ’01, ’02, ’04, Berkeley Professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and data scientist and former White House Senior Policy Advisor Dan Hammer, MS, Ph.D. ’17.

Look for a longer profile of Kevin Chou in the upcoming Summer issue of CALIFORNIA. In the meantime, Fiat Lux!

Filed under: Cal Culture
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