An interview with Steve Chaddick, EE ‘74, MSEE ‘82
Developer, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist
How do you remember your time at Georgia Tech? Growing up in Tennessee, I played with vacuum tubes, radios, and pretty much always knew I wanted to be an electrical engineer. Georgia Tech was known as an outstanding regional school, so I came to Tech. I joined Phi Kappa Tau, and I’m still house corporation president. I enrolled in the co-op program and had the good fortune of working at Harris Corporation in Melbourne, Florida. I spent summer and winter quarters there in those years and lived with a Harris engineer in an apartment on the beach. He had a sailboat, and we would sail and hang out on the beach. I look back on all that and think “that was really cool.” Aside from that, I learned a lot about engineering work at Harris.
Since you’ve graduated, the campus has changed considerably. How does it feel as an alumnus to see this evolution? Not long after I arrived at Tech, Joe Pettit came on board as president, after having served as dean of engineering at Stanford. He started Tech on the path to becoming a major research institution, changing the whole trajectory of the Institute, leading to dramatic changes in facilities, programs, and reputation. I’m honestly quite proud of it. I will say that there is one thing that hasn’t changed much—the Van Leer Building—except for where we are sitting (the Interdisciplinary Design Commons Chaddick Board Room).
What is your current profession? As I’ve grown a little older, it has become important for me to ask, “can I still be useful and contribute in some meaningful way?” It is important to me to feel relevant through contributing and providing “value-add.” So, I spend my time helping with startup enterprises and serving on advisory boards.
How do you work with startups? Venture capitalists spend other people’s money; I only spend my own money. A friend who is a venture capitalist calls me a “mentor capitalist,” which is a better fit for me. I work with startup enterprises, many of which came out of Georgia Tech, providing some initial capital, advice, and encouragement. The hardest part of being a mentor capitalist is organizing yourself
And your advisory board work? I was on the advisory board for the Galloway School, a local k-12 private school, where my son went after we returned to Atlanta. I served as board chair there for some time. I’m involved with the Alliance Theater, serving as treasurer of the advisory board. I’m on the Woodruff Arts Center finance committee, the Children’s Healthcare Foundation board, and the board of Atlanta Technology Angels. I spent 23 years on the ECE advisory board, 12 years of those as board chair. These boards serve mainly to guide the management team of the organization and fundraising. Much of my philanthropy activity has been in conjunction with the advisory boards.
Why are you so involved in ECE? Everyone says luck and hard work leads to success. I have a lot of friends just as smart as I am and they worked just as hard, but never hit the inflection point to make it in a big way. I feel invariably grateful that it happened to me. I feel ECE provided me the opportunity, and I feel obligated to give back.
What are your hopes for the future? I think faculty and student innovation and entrepreneurship should be encouraged, but very carefully. There is an opportunity for Georgia Tech to have a much more significant economic impact in terms of propagation of innovation through startups and licensing of invention. There are always concerns about ethics and conflicts of interest, and we need to navigate that pathway very carefully as an Institution.
What would you say to a fellow alumni interested in becoming more engaged with the School? Well, there’s a simple answer: I wouldn’t be who I am if it hadn’t been for Georgia Tech and specifically the School. I knew what I wanted to do; Georgia Tech enabled that. I made a lot of great friends along the way. I feel fortunate, and it is very satisfying to contribute and give back.
Steve Chaddick has been a staple to the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering since he stepped through the same double doors in the Van Leer Electrical Engineering Building at Georgia Tech in 1969. Mr. Chaddick has more than 30 years of experience in telecom and related industries, having held varied positions at GTE Electronic Systems Group, Pacific Measurements, and Scientific-Atlanta, to name a few. Mr. Chaddick has also served as the senior vice president of corporate strategy and marketing for Ciena Corporation and founded Ridgewood Advisors in 2004 as a vehicle for angel investing and nurturing the community of emerging technology companies. He co-founded Tridom in 1983, which was acquired by AT&T in 1988 when he served as vice president of engineering at AT&T Tridom. He received both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering and is a member of the Georgia Tech Academy of Distinguished Engineering Alumni.
Last revised May 15, 2020