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Multi-Millionaire Admits: The Government Helped Make Me Rich

In this excerpt from Miller and Lapham's book, Jerry Fiddler says he couldn't have built his multi-billion dollar company without massive govt. help.

​Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from  Brian Miller and Mike Lapham's book,  The Self-Made Myth: The Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012). ​You can read AlterNet's Vision editor Sara Robinson's review of  the book here.


Unless you happen to be a computer programmer, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about how a global positioning system (GPS) or a digital camera works or where the Mars rovers get their intelligence. All those devices have something in common: they’re driven by software developed by a company you’ve probably never heard of -- Wind River Systems. Based in Alameda, California, Wind River is a company born in part from government investment in research.

At the helm of Wind River for 26 years -- first as founder and CEO and then as chairman -- Jerry Fiddler knows that his success depended on many things, including public support of education, other people’s investment, US government support of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, and a whole lot of happenstance. In fact, were it not for a few quirks of fate, he might be a jazz musician, a photographer, or a geologist today.

Wind River Systems was sold to Intel in 2009 for $884 million. Fiddler’s share was more than $40 million. Now Fiddler “helps people start companies” as an investor in and consultant to startups in Silicon Valley, as an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at the University of California at Berkeley, and as guest lecturer and mentor at Stanford University.

Education played an important role in Fiddler’s success. After attending public school in Chicago, he went on to attend the University of Illinois, a land-grant college, where he majored in music and photography.

I was the first person in my family to get a college degree. I went on and got a master’s in computer science. I got out and got a job working at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory as a computer scientist. I was making what seemed to me, at the time, to be an infinite amount of money. But I wanted something different. I wanted to affect the world in a different way. And I decided to start my own little consulting business.

I called my dad, my parents, to tell them, and I was sure they were going to try to talk me out of it because here I was kind of living the dream -- I had a stable job, responsible interesting work, prestigious?and I decided I was going to start my own business. I was 29 at the time. And my dad said, “Well it’s about damn time.” It was completely the opposite of what I expected to hear.

In addition to the importance of schooling, Fiddler acknowledges that his entrepreneurship has partially been the result of his upbringing. For him the two seem to go hand in hand: having the opportunity to attend school coupled with the support of family in his endeavors helped lead to his ability to set Wind River in motion. A product of European thinking brought up in America, Fiddler says,

Being in a family situation that supported me to develop, and in schools with teachers who also helped me to learn and develop

. . . you just don’t do it on your own. You do it with the help of parents and friends and teachers and co-workers and service providers.

My parents were both born here, but all four of my grandparents came from various parts of eastern Europe. My dad had businesses: he had a fabric store, a lingerie shop, and that was just the way those folks thought about things; you don’t work for somebody else. The way you grow up and become a real adult or mensch is you start a business, you run a business.

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