From Private Equity Pro To ‘Robot Of The Year’

Photo ©Vincent Fournier from the Man Machine series. Courtesy photo

You’ve heard of business for a greater good. Make way for artificial intelligence for a greater good. That’s the mission behind a recently launched robotics and AI competition created by TRIUM Global Executive MBA alumnus Philippe Nacson.  

If the thought of a robot competition sounds too futuristic for your liking, it’s that kind of view that Nacson says his competition, The Robot Of The Year, is meant to dispel. Fears of artificial intelligence wiping out jobs or — for worse — humans are the kind of Hollywood fictions Nacson intends to counter with this year’s challenge, which centers on AI’s potential to help foster a better, more sustainable world.

For those who still aren’t convinced AI is good for anything beyond verbal commands to Siri and Alexa, Nacson invites them to consider robots working with children who have autism and helping them grow in a better fashion; exoskeletons helping disabled people work in the same manner as those without disability; and robotics used in the health sector to improve treatments provided to humans.


The fact that he’s created The Robot of the Year challenge and launched a company to drive AI investing has no one more surprised than Nacson himself.  A 20-year career in investment banking, finance, and private equity led him to the TRIUM Global Executive MBA. The innovative degree program is jointly issued by NYU’s Stern School of Business, London School of Economics, and HEC Paris School of Management with modules that take place in six different cities around the world.

Nacson enrolled in 2010 and graduated from the program in 2012. His motivations for going to business school were to explore more fields and to enlarge his vision and understanding of business. Never was it his intention that his MBA experience awaken the entrepreneur in him or send him off exploring a line of work outside of the financial sector.

But that is exactly what happened.

“I remember we were in London for the module located at LSE,” Nacson says. “We were in one of the coaching sessions when the coach asked what our ideal job would be. What would we love to do in our lives if we had the choice?

“My thought was, ‘I’m 40 years old. To me this is not a relevant question. I’m doing this MBA, but more than likely, I’ll still work in some kind of finance job.’” Still, Nacson says, he decided to play along. “Since I had to answer, I said I would love to do something creative and I’d love to work in robotics. But I’m not trained as a creative. I’ve been working in finance the last 20 years and I’m not a robotics engineer so the chances of fulfilling my dream were pretty slim.”

TRIUM Global Executive MBA alumnus Philippe Nacson is the founder and creator of The Robot of The Year Challenge. Courtesy photo


Nonetheless, a year after graduating from TRIUM, Nacson found himself quitting his job in private equity and doing something creative: furniture design.

“I didn’t train at all to become a furniture designer. I got selected for an exhibition in Milan for the Salone del Mobile and decided to quit my job and concentrate my energy there.”

That led to Tokyo, Japan where he went to spend some time on work related to his design activities. As he’d always been intrigued by tech and artificial intelligences, and the extreme fears associated with robots being super destructive machines set out to replace humans, he visited the Miraikan Museum, one he’d been longing to visit since its opening in 2001.

“I found it extremely interesting to understand it a bit more, and soon started to get into projects that were doing good for humans and using new tech to counterbalance this whole fear.

“I’m from Paris — born in Africa, but I’m French. For Europe and the U.S., the culture we have is not very geared towards interaction with robots and AI. The way we look at those things is on the contrary to Asian countries like China and Japan — they become used to interacting with robots since they’re very young. It’s embedded into their own culture, but not ours.” Nacson says this is what prompted him to create a worldwide competition that will favor and promote the positive innovations for humans in different sectors.

“For 20 years I worked in investment banking and private equity, then suddenly I’m a furniture designer, then that experience brings me to travel to Tokyo. That’s when I decided to spend more time in this museum I was dreaming of going to for a while. It was just a line of coincidences. A year before, I had no idea I’d be quitting my job, no idea I’d be doing furniture design, then no idea I’d end up where I am now. My whole story is a series of good coincidences.”

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