Tech Leader Michael Potter has Sac State Roots
Entrepreneur Michael Potter thinks creatively, maximizes his options and
takes calculated risks.
this led him to start a multimillion dollar European telecom company,
be involved in international space research and head a high-tech venture
capital firm, all before the age of 40. He is a man who calls critical
thinking a basic survival skill for success today.
The Sac State grad parlayed his education, a bachelors degree in
government in 1984 with a minor in business, into a unique global career.
He believes that students should make education work for them by building
a knowledge base that will serve as an investment for the work world.
Potters academic career is as intricate and diverse as where it
led him. He transferred to Sac State after completing an associate of
arts degree in business at a Southern California community college where
his father was a professor.
He says it was the opportunity to integrate different concepts and disciplines
that was the strength of his Sac State education. While at Sac State,
he crossed disciplines to take courses outside his primary areas, such
as a class in violence and terrorism. By following his intellectual passions,
he says, he built a solid framework for his lifes direction.
It is one of the few places you can mix a degree. You have an excellent
business program and government program and you can mix them to get the
best of both. I even designed some of my own classes, he says, recalling
one course in international human resources management that he created
I wrote a paper for a management class that was a profile of the
knowledge workers of the future. It emphasized that people
must be able to learn, analyze, synthesize, to write and communicate.
I concluded that those people would find a relevant place in the workforce.
He says the understanding he built in writing that paper gave him insight
into the rapidly changing world of business.
Today it is moving so fast people have to integrate things from
technology to business to psychology to history. That whole method of
approaching and solving problems that you learn in getting a liberal education
is what brings relevance for the liberal arts. (Life) is not an either/orthings
must coexist. Potter says there have been three transformational events
in his lifehis experience and internship with the Sac State Sacramento
Semester program; his year at the London School of Economics; and attending
the International Space University. In each instance he took a calculated
risk that launched him forward in his career.
His experience with the Sacramento Semester program and his internship
with then-freshman assemblymember Tom Hayden have stayed with him for
Sac State was the only place where it was possible to have that
kind of an internship for the State of California, Potter says.
What I learned could only have taken place at Sac State.
In the early 1980s Hayden assigned him to learn about computers and produce
some computer-based projects. He also had Potter prepare an analysis of
interlocking boards of directors, a project that Potter says helped understand
how many people become leaders in industry. The lesson stayed with him.
It was transformational. Not only did I meet my wife in the Sacramento
Semester program, but I met people who were highly educated. Even though
I could not always agree with themand we had tons of disagreementsat
least we shared our views in a constructive atmosphere where people could
challenge each other. It forced me to think, to articulate well and to
defend my positions. It was a program that has made a great difference
in my life, he recalls fondly.
Potter and his wife, Margaret McCarthy, helped celebrate last years
25th anniversary reunion for the program. Over the years, they have stayed
in touch with several Sacramento Semester classmates. Following his graduation
from Sac State, Potter was accepted in the International Affairs graduate
program and went to England as part of his studies.
In England, Potter met an eccentric professor with the London
School of Economics who was one of the worlds top experts on the
Soviet military during the Cold War. Because of this professor, he moved
from the Sac State graduate program and entered the London School of Economics,
where he completed his work in international relations with a specialty
in military and security studies.
He finished there in 1986, and spent the next three months at the U.N.
summer school in Geneva, where he was a researcher for the 18-nation disarmament
committee. That was followed by a position at the Center for Strategic
and International Studies, a policy think tank in Washington D.C. At the
center the competition for arms control and nuclear weapons policy jobs
was ferocious, so Potter temporarily took an analyst position in the telecommunications
part of the organization.
Potter believes it was education that set the framework for his success.
He says, Ive had all these strange twists and turns, but one
thing has been consistentits always been international business
and technology. That theme is always the same.
What I hope for people when they leave graduate school in Sacramento
is that they will have built a framework for looking at the world
thinking in those creative ways
Thats the true test of success.
Grade point average just happens to be important because its part
of what students have to deliver, but hopefully they will walk away with
a way to look at the world.
A student has a responsibility for his or her own education, Potter says.
If the teachers are passionate about what they teach and the students
become passionate about it, then 20 years later, while you wont
have total retention, you will have the ideas and the concepts.
Potters third transforming experience was attending the International
Space University in 1988. I was working at the think tank in Washington
when someone said, There is a scholarship available. Do you want
to go? he recalls. So, I quit my job for a three-month
program at MIT. You get a certificate in space studies. To me it was an
Those fundamental educational building blocks led him on to hold his current
position as director of Paradigm Ventures, an international venture capital
firm focused on high technology. Prior to that he was a founder of Esprit
Telecom, a European telecommunications provider. He served as a founding
board member of the European Competitive Telecommunications Association
and is also a director of Global Connect, a Danish phone company.
Potters career has taken him around the world. Today he is as at
home in Europe as in this country, and all because he followed his curiosity
and took advantage of unique opportunities in creating his educational