Doctors said he was dead, but it was just the beginning

Michael LaChance
LaChance with his wife Laura ’86

If you visit a LaChance family reunion and call out ‘Lucky,’ all the men in the room will turn around. But only one will tell you just how lucky he was to survive seven days in the hospital’s intensive care unit in his early twenties.

“My temperature went up to 109 degrees for 45 minutes,” said Lt. Col. Michael “Lucky” LaChance ’84. “On the ward, they thought I died.”

Assigned to the military’s infantry branch after completing ROTC at Auburn University, LaChance entered ranger school the same year he graduated with a degree in public administration in 1984. But a single instance of heat stroke cut his ranger school training short.

“It was actually a Godsend,” LaChance said. “It set into motion the series of events that changed my life.”

When LaChance wasn’t spending his childhood weekends at a sunny picnic with his family, or flying model airplanes in the backyard with his dad and brother, he was moving from base to base following his dad’s military employment. A hometown wasn’t a place, but wherever he, his brother and parents could stay longer than the place before. “I was always a military brat,” said LaChance. “Home was everywhere growing up.” But that’s the family arrangement.

LaChance’s father, grandfather and brother served in the military. His son, Michael Tyler, currently serves in the army as a captain. More than half his wife’s family has served or is serving. “We’re military families,” he says with a laugh.

While his dad was stationed at Fort Rucker in Dale County, Ala., LaChance chose to attend Auburn University after graduating high school in Ozark, Ala. For LaChance, serving in Auburn’s ROTC program come freshman year was never an option; it was the only option.

“Being at Auburn in the early ‘80s when Reagan was president was phenomenal,” LaChance said. “You had a renewed sense of purpose for your nation, and me and my ROTC buddies were as thick as thieves.”

After overcoming his heat stroke, LaChance was re-branched from infantry to military intelligence, a discipline focused onutilizing analysis collection to provide assistance to commanders in their decisions. The branch switch was anything but what LaChance had imagined for himself during his four years of ROTC training. It forced him to change his perspective on his place in the military, from the one pulling a trigger to the one planning when.

“You know the old joke about the world’s oldest profession? Well, they say this is the second,” said LaChance. “Every decision ever made since the beginning of time requires somebody to process, translate, interpret and make sense of the information all around them.”

LaChance served 21 years as a military intelligence officer, including a tour as the Chief of Intelligence Planning at Third Army, which was the commanding army headquarters for the Middle East. Beginning his military career in the 101st Airborne Division Association as General David Petraeus’s Battalion Intelligence Officer Commander, he successfully lead 120 service and support soldiers and managed $200 million of intelligence equipment. He also served as the COO of Task Force XXI, functioning as the chief of intelligence for the division during the testing of 121 new war fighter initiatives.

In 1998, LaChance became a professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, until moving to Chicago to teach the Chicago University ROTC and later retiring from the army in 2005. While in college, LaChance never imagined the second half of his life after leaving the military. With a public administration degree, LaChance considered following in his dad’s footsteps and becoming a city manager, but the idea of politics failed to appeal.

“Nobody wants to hire a guy out of the military whose only job was to blow sh*t up,” LaChance says with a laugh. But the heatstroke came in luck. “I took the skills I learned from being a strategic planner and analyst and applied those in the business world all day long.”

For the last 10 years, LaChance has worked as a competitive intelligence executive and technical leader at Wheelhouse in Franklin, Tennessee, a private equity firm backing portfolio companies. “It’s like house-flipping, but with businesses,” he said. Prior to Wheelhouse, LaChance was senior IT project manager for Cogent-HMG and vice president of strategic planning and research for spheris. He also served as strategic services manager for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. However, transitioning from the military world into the civilian healthcare sector did not come easy.

“A lot of civilian guys feel their first job isn’t as enjoyable or fulfilling as they hoped. You spend 20 years in the military, then get out and realize the world isn’t what you thought it would be. The rose-colored glasses come off.”

In his first job at BlueCross BlueShield, LaChance said he felt as if he were speaking a foreign language, causing ample friction within the workplace. However, when the business moved him to a different branch within government services, LaChance didn’t worry. To this day, he lives by one four-word philosophy: observe, orient, decide and act.

“In my opinion, the one thing that challenges people the most is a learning cycle. If you want to succeed in life, you have to be able to quickly observe, orient, decide and act, then take away lessons learned and try again.”

That, said LaChance, is how he makes his luck. LaChance currently resides in Thompson’s Station, Tennessee, with his wife Laura. In 1983, in the last quarter of LaChance’s senior year, the two met while working at the old Crystal restaurant across from the engineering building together. He worked a different shift than her, but their schedules crossed during a hectic football game in November. He took her on the first date on Thanksgiving. By Christmas, he’d gotten down on his knee. In June 1984, the knot was tied.

“That’s my philosophy,” LaChance said. “I’m not an indecisive person. I made a decision, I committed to it ever since.”

Together, LaChance and his wife have one son, Michael Tyler, and one daughter, Courtney. Though LaChance has led military generals and executives in intelligence analysis and technical planning for over 30 years, he said his greatest leadership position has been being a father.

“The most challenging, as well as the most impactful, leadership you could exercise is setting an example for someone and providing guidance and leadership to your children.” Leadership is simple for LaChance. “You gotta get dirty to experience what everyone else is experiencing,” he said.

It means not leading from the rear but leading from the trenches. It also means observing, orienting, deciding and acting in every given opportunity. For LaChance, opportunities move quickly. A chance heat stroke can open and close a door in the blink of an eye. In intelligence and analytics, some of the greatest decisions are made in split seconds. Life fares no differently.

“You have to go out and make things happen for yourself,” LaChance said. “The one thing I told my students is, ‘Everything I’m teaching you is history from this second on. That doesn’t mean there aren’t facts you shouldn’t be aware of, but the interaction of the human race inside this world we are all contained in, the only way you to succeed in that system is to act, orient, decide, observe, and repeat.”

LaChance with his son, Michael Tyler (Vanderbilt '13) and wife Laura (Auburn '86)
LaChance with his son, Michael Tyler (Vanderbilt ’13) and wife Laura (Auburn ’86)

“In my opinion, the one thing that challenges people the most is a learning cycle. If you want to succeed in life, you have to be able to quickly observe, orient, decide and act, then take away lessons learned and try again.”