I meet Silicon Valley top executive, Andre Haddad, at a busy Peet’s coffee shop near his home. Andre apologizes in advance that he has to run in an hour to prepare for an LGBT immigration equality fundraiser that he is hosting that weekend. “We’re going to Costco to buy a lot of booze,” he explains laughing.
With his career achievements as a senior executive of eBay, Andre carries a lot of weight in Silicon Valley, and he has leveraged his influence to advocate for gay rights. For him, gay rights is a matter of principle. “I am as productive member of society as any straight person,” Andre says, “and I demand to be recognized as such. There is absolutely no compromise.”
The issue of immigration equality is a very personal one for Andre. Born in Beirut, Andre’s family managed to survive through 15 years of the Lebanese civil war before finally fleeing in 1989 when their house was bombed. Then 17, his parents moved to nearby Cyprus to live with a uncle and Andre immigrated on his own to France to attend a prep school. He recalls, “I remember distinctly landing in Paris and finding myself in this giant town where I had pretty much no idea where things started and where things ended.”
Through this time Andre became aware of his gay identity, finally coming out during his last years of business school in Paris. Fortunately, he felt encouraged and supported through his coming out process, though he says “It was weird to come out to my girlfriend at the time. That was the most awkward conversation.” After graduating, Andre went on to work at Procter & Gamble as a brand manager. By this time, the internet revolution was starting to take place. “I was an early adopter of the internet,” says Andre, “I spent a lot of nights surfing the web.”
It was through an early form of the internet in France, the Minitel, that Andre met his partner. “We met in 1996, on a gay personals site on the Minitel,” Andre says, joking that they are probably one of the oldest successful online personals story. Having seen the success of eBay in the U.S., Andre decided to leave P&G in 1999 to start a French version of eBay, iBazar. iBazar grew very quickly to become an iconic brand in France and in 2001 was acquired by eBay for $140M.
Andre eventually immigrated to the U.S. with eBay where he rose through the ranks to become senior vice president of product and most recently, CEO of the eBay site Shopping.com. When I ask about his experience being an openly gay executive, Andre says “I feel lucky that eBay has been a company that has enabled me to expand my career with no sense of worry that my being gay is going to be an issue. And you know, it helps because I always approach it with confidence. It’s like, whatever, it’s who I am, it’s no big deal. ”
On the topic of former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who took a stance against gay marriage equality during her 2009 campaign for California governor, Andre says “When she was CEO, she was so progressive on so many things, including developing gay executives in the company. Its disappointing to see that someone as socially progressive as ‘Meg CEO’ had to change her position as ‘Meg governor candidate’ to be elected by the Republican base.”
For Andre, marriage equality and gay rights is of paramount importance. “Its the next chapter of civil rights,” he says. His passion for gay rights has only grown with the birth of his children. While at eBay, Andre met a colleague who had a family through the use of an egg donor and a surrogate after years of failed fertility treatments. “It was like a lightbulb went off,” Andre says, “I knew that this was how we were going to have a family too.” While having children was something that Andre has always wanted, it took a bit more convincing for his other half. “My partner says that a few days after I met him, I told him that one day we were going to have kids together. He was very skeptical,” Andre recalls laughing. In 2006, the couple welcomed a twin boy and girl into their family.
When I ask about what his hopes are for the next 20 years when it comes to gay rights, Andre answers “What I want to see in 20 years, but hopefully a lot earlier, is for the gap in rights of gay citizens be completely closed in as many countries as possible in the world. While I think that laws are the result to some extent of cultural evolution in society, I think society is also the result of a change in laws.”
“And my number two wish,” Andre continues, “I hope that any gay couple that wants to have a family can do it. And not just the rich people. Having gone through it, it costs a lot of money. Its not nearly as accessible as for straight couples, and I hope it will be one day so that people who wish to be parents can become them.”
Earlier this year, Andre resigned from eBay to look for new opportunities. For the next few months, he plans to spend some time taking stock and focusing on his family. “I’ve already segmented my week,” Andre says, “Monday is with my daughter, Tuesday is with my son, and Wednesday is with my partner. We just bought some bikes, so we’ll be biking a lot.” I tell him that this sounds like a pretty good life, and Andre agrees. “Every morning I wake up, and I just spend ten seconds taking a deep breath and saying thank you. Not for the previous day, or for the last week or month. Just in general, thank you. I feel very lucky and blessed.”