SNC interim president Zschau a Renaissance man


Ed Zschau is the interm president of SNC. There are three candidates for a full-tme position for president. The appointment is expected to be appointed in November. | Courtesy of: Ed Zschau

Alex Schoff, Editor

Ed Zschau’s office is empty, completely empty. This is surprising for a guy like Ed. Even though he is the interim president of Sierra Nevada College, his personality would suggest that his office would be filled with photos, knickknacks he’s collected over the years, and even a framed degree or two. Zschau is a jack of all trades, his resume is diverse and fascinating. He started turning heads well before he got into business.
“[Figure skating] is was what I did when I was in grade school and high school, spending between four and five hours a day practicing during the school year. We didn’t have ice in the summer in Omaha, so I had to spend summers in other places like Minnesota, or Michigan, or Colorado to train. In the summer, it was seven or eight hours a day of training,” Zschau said. “I skated in the national championships twice, once in men’s singles and dance. I had a partner and we won the Midwest championship, then in singles at Berkeley, California in 1957.”
While figure skating took up most of his childhood, by the time Zschau got to college, he couldn’t keep up with the strict training regimen along with his schoolwork, so he put down the skates and became a full-time student at Princeton.
“I went to Princeton for undergraduate school and I wanted to be a physicist when I started, then I took an introduction to philosophy course and I concluded, this stuff is way cool,” Zschau said. “So I wound up in what they called in those days a bridge program between physics and philosophy. The philosophy of science.”
After Zschau finished his degrees, he went on to teach and would later start some very successful entrepreneurial ventures.
“I was a professor at Stanford at the Graduate School of Business and I just got thinking more and more about starting a tech company. These were the early days of Silicon Valley,” Zschau said. “So, I decided, rather than teaching, how about doing.”
Zschau founded System Industries and led it to a successful initial public offering in 1980. After that Zschau knew it was time to start a new venture in life: politics.
“I’d had an experience as a private citizen getting involved in a political issue having to do with tax policy to encourage more venture capital investing in young companies. And that was a successful experience, so I felt maybe I had a contribution to make,” Zschau said. “My company had gone public and we hired someone to replace me as CEO so I was in a position where I could devote some time to public service.”
He served two terms in the house of representatives representing Silicon Valley. He served on the house foreign affairs committee and enacted legislation that is still in place today, like the Export Administration Act which had to do with whether or not technology companies could could export their products. After his time in the house Zschau threw his hat into the presidential ring. Well, kind of.
“Ross Perot had started the reform party and in 1992 he had gotten a lot of votes and former governor of Colorado Dick Lamm decided to challenge Perot in his own party and asked me if I would run as his vice president,” Zschau said. “We started the campaign in late July of ‘96 and it was over in mid-August. It was just a favor to Dick Lamm that I would accompany him to some television interviews.”
Once politics was behind him, Zschau was the general manager of the Storage Systems Division at IBM, however Zschau always ends up coming back to what he knows: education. He has more than 20 years of teaching experience and has taught many notable entrepreneurs, including renowned author and podcaster Tim Ferriss – he appeared as a guest on Ferris’s podcast earlier this year. His time with his students doesn’t just end when they graduate his class.
“I stay in touch with many of my students,” Zschau said. “At Stanford Business School I’ve been in touch with the class of ‘69. The MBA students are having their 50th reunion this coming weekend and they’ve invited me to participate.”
Zschau has impacted many lives, not only as an educator, but as an entrepreneur and public servant, and many of those people feel like they owe Zschau a big debt of gratitude.
“He gave me the courage to go on my own and not have an employer,” Nick Frey, a former student of Zschau’s and founder/CEO of Boo Bicycle said. “He really inspires people to be better than they currently are and to do things that maybe they don’t even know they can do. I think that’s really his biggest impact, empowering people.”