I was brought up in a middle-class household. My mom was a public school English teacher and my dad was a naval officer. When they decided they wanted to start a family, my dad left the Navy to go into business and my mom left her position to look after me and my sister, Diane. When we got a little older, my mom got a Master in Psychology and went back to work in the public-school system to help special needs kids.
Growing up I was expected to work. While I attended a good public school, and played sports, I also earned money from a variety of jobs (e.g. delivering newspapers and mowing lawns). This enabled me to make my first big purchases, a computer. With the help of a math teacher, I learned to program. With these new computer skills, I was hired for an internship with a local business, an opportunity that gave me direction.
College was a huge opportunity for me. I was accepted in Cornell University’s engineering program, and I graduated near the top of my class. Because of my grades, I was awarded a scholarship that allowed me to stay at Cornell and earn a Master of Engineering in Computer Science. While in graduate school, my mom died of breast cancer. It was bittersweet to receive my degree without her there to share it with me.
My first job gave me in-depth business experience. I worked for companies all across America as a management consultant for Price Waterhouse. While working in Los Angeles, I met my wife, Di. I was instantly smitten. When I had the idea for creating a product, there was no way I was doing anything without her. At 25, I proposed and we moved out to North Carolina to start our life together.
In North Carolina, we did something special. I convinced my best friend from college to join me and we set up in a tiny office, went without taking a salary, and shared a car. With the help of a lot of people we built a product that became the best solution to the year 2000 problem. At 29, right before the birth of my son, we sold the company. Di and I built a house in North Raleigh, where we still live. That year we had another main accomplishment (and one significantly more important) by adding the newest member to our family, our daughter.
As a young father, I continued to build companies in North Carolina. With two friends, I started an Internet consulting company, The Marathon Group, growing it to employ close to 100 people. After selling that company, I started a third company, SmartPath. Our clients included Target, Novartis, and American Express. Once again, I worked with a great team, and made a strong company. With three successes, and having created hundreds of jobs for North Carolinians, I received the Council for Entrepreneurial Developments’ Hat Trick Award.
After selling the third company, Di and I decided to take a year learning about other cultures. We spent a good part of that time in Spain, with our kids enrolled in a school in which they were the only native English speakers. When we returned to Raleigh, I launched a fourth company, Zift Solutions, which now employs more than 230 people.
North Carolina has been good for me and my family, but, in 2016, I grew concerned. I believe our country has made a terrible mistake. I see money flowing into government in ways that are rigging the system, making the American dream ever harder to obtain. We are attacking the checks and balances that keep us safe, encouraging an alt-right nationalism, vilifying immigrants, pulling back our commitment from creating an equal playing field, and doubling down on the failed theory of trickle-down economics.
America has unique qualities that will be lost if those of us who are able don’t stand up to reaffirm its core principles. We need to support a society in which success doesn’t depend on the wealth of your parents or how well you know members of the elite. We need to strive to level the playing field. I’ve redirected my life to work toward these ideals. Working together, we will win and put America on a better path.