The Story Behind Rick Snyder: Seasoned Tech Entrepreneur Wins Michigan GOP Primary

It’s near the beginning of 2001 and I walk into the Ann Arbor, MI, offices of Ardesta for the first time. I am introduced to Rick Snyder, CEO of the business accelerator. After we exchange our greetings and I’m shown my new desk, a colleague tells me that Snyder will run for governor of Michigan one day. Launching Ardesta is part of Snyder’s long-range plan to establish himself as a successful entrepreneur in Michigan and use it as a platform for his political ambitions, my colleague says.

And Snyder has done exactly that. Nine years after I came to work for him (more on that below), Snyder has surprised the political establishment in Michigan and has won the state’s GOP primary. He will face Democrat Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing, MI, in November for the governor’s office.

I am looking forward to a campaign in which the language of entrepreneurship is spoken by a candidate who actually knows what he’s talking about.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, here’s a little more background on Snyder, and on my connection with him.

Snyder was born in Battle Creek, MI, and attended the University of Michigan in the late ’70s and early ’80s, where he shined as a wunderkind, earning a bachelor’s, MBA, and law degree all before he turned 23. He rose through the ranks at the Detroit and Chicago offices of the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers), where he was put in charge of mergers and acquisitions. Between ’91 and ’97, he helped run Gateway computer and guided the PC firm from a private $600 million business to a $6 billion-plus publicly traded company.

Then he returned to Michigan to begin the next phase of his career. In 1997, he launched Avalon Investments in Ann Arbor, and then a couple of years later he founded Ardesta, whose mission was to bring cutting-edge nanotechnology and MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) research to market. Snyder coined a new term, “Small Tech,” to describe the technologies he was investing in.

One of the most successful of Ardesta’s investments was medical device maker HandyLab, which was acquired for $300 million last year by New Jersey-based medical devices manufacturer Becton, Dickinson and Company.

To help spread the word about Small Tech, he created and funded a magazine and website called Small Times. That’s where I stepped into the picture. Between 2001 and 2004, I was news editor for Small Times, so Snyder was indirectly my boss for a few years. I’ve had little contact with him since 2004 other than interviewing him for various news stories.

My most recent interview with Snyder happened last summer, right at the beginning of his campaign, when he told me his philosophy of attracting C-level talent to Michigan, to take small startups … Next Page »

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10 responses to “The Story Behind Rick Snyder: Seasoned Tech Entrepreneur Wins Michigan GOP Primary”

  1. My greatest concern and fear is that all the favoritism he will show towards the Detroit area. It is fact in the past that Detroit gets way too much monies from our tax dollars to help them out. Enough is enough.
    I did not vote for him. I didn’t vote for Granholm. Doesn’t seem to be any info of his religious beliefs or practices. Pro life? Pro abortion? Christian? After Obamonomics there is very little trust left for politicians let alone someone from nowhere with just another person who knows how to manipulate money.

  2. scorr says:

    I tend to lean more Democratic, but I will vote for Snyder. He has sensible ideas and doesn’t seem to be trying to shove his religion down the voters throats. We need a Governor, not a minister.

  3. jennifer says:

    I don’t think religion is an important factor in a governmental candidate unless there will be important legislature relating to it that will be decided upon. Religion should be a private affair and we shouldn’t care unless it is a heavy influence on the decision making. Snyder is Michigan born not “someone from nowhere” as in the first comment and he is an intellectual and has the right head for business. And he obviously is not biased toward Detroit as he is based in Ann Arbor. I feel as though he would be a good selection for the state governor as Michigan needs someone who knows the situation and the climate in the state as well as knowing how to get things done. We need some good leadership and Snyder has already shown it by attracting business opportunities to our state.

  4. Ziggy says:

    I voted for Mr. Snyder precisely because he is a businessman, not a tainted politician.

    Given his record as a businessman and a capitalist, I believe he is biased towards economic failure, which is precisely what Michigan needs.

  5. Thank you for your thoughts, everybody. This should be an interesting campaign to watch. I’ll keep a close eye on it in the context of what might be of interest to Xconomy readers. So, I will not be concerned with social so much as economic issues.

    One thing I wanted to correct here, though, is this perception that Detroit gets all the attention. In fact, the opposite is true. Ann Arbor, through Ann Arbor SPARK, and Oakland County, through Automation Alley, get far more attention, and tax dollars, from the state than their cousin, TechTown, in Detroit. It is private money through the Kauffman Foundation and others that keeps entrepreneurship training in Detroit alive.

  6. John & Regina says:

    The next Governor needs to eliminate the State’s deficit entirely through spending cuts. Yes, it can be done without drastic cuts to the few truly essential services which government must provide……………. First on the list for big-dollar savings: require all state-government employees, and all public-school teachers and administrators, to pay at least 25% of their own healthcare insurance premiums. A Kalamazoo Gazette article from Monday, August 9, 2010 reports that the average prviate-sector worker pays 26% of his/her own medical insurance premiums. I personally pay 23% of mine. The people who work for the taxpayers should pay at least the same portion of their premiums as the taxpayers themselves……….. My mother is a lifelong educator in the public schools, and I want good teachers to be well-compensated. For the most part, teachers in Michigan already are fairly compensated. Enough is enough. Taxpayers are not cows whose sole purpose in life is to be milked by selfish unionized government employees………….. The next governor — hopefully Snyder — can find other realistic ways of eliminating the deficit by consulting the Mackinac Center’s detailed recommendations…………. CUT SPENDING NOW.

  7. Joleen North says:

    I plan to vote for Rick Snyder, but I hope that he remembers that Michigan has an Upper Peninsula. We definitely need some of those tech jobs up here. We have an Air Force Base (closed in ’95) that would be an excellent place for tech companies.

  8. Jeff says:

    I beleive it is definately good to create incentive for small businesses, but people seem to forget where the money going to help small businesses will come from… Money that would go to “essential” social services like public education is slowly dissapearing in the name of progess and job expansion.
    When will we learn that linear and unbridled growth is not the most essential part of our society? The kids are our future and are something we must be invested in. Rich conservatives could care less because they can move to a rich neighborhood, where high property taxes will fund their schools. Whereas poor people, the ones most effected by less social services, will be stuck in poor neighborhoods with low quality education.
    As far as making all public school teachers and administrators pay more of their own premium for healthcare disturbs me. State budgets for schools are already at an all time low.
    Has it been so long since most of you were in school that you have forgotten how important our teachers are to society? Private sector employees foot more of the bill because they generally make more money than our educators do. So please don’t remove more incentive for people to choose ecuation as a career path.

  9. Read THIS for the story of Rick Snyder