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Michael S. Tomczyk is best known for his role in the development and marketing of the Commodore VIC-20, the first microcomputer to sell one million units; and for his early role as a pioneer in telecomputing.
More broadly, he has come to be known as a technology futurist through his activities as Managing Director of the Mack Institute for Innovation Management at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, where he provided managerial leadership for nearly 20 years until retiring in 2014. He is currently serving as Innovator in Residence at Villanova University.
The Home Computer Wars
In early 1980, Tomczyk joined Commodore as Marketing Strategist and Assistant to the President (Commodore founder Jack Tramiel). When Tramiel announced that he wanted to develop a low cost affordable home computer “for the masses, not the classes,” Tomczyk embraced the concept and aggressively championed the new computer, insisting that it be “user friendly.” The concept for the new computer was born at a Commodore management conference at the Fox and Hounds estate outside of London, England, the first week in April 1980. Despite his status as the newest member of the management team, Tomczyk vigorously championed the home computer and on his return to Santa Clara, California, he wrote a 30 page single spaced memo to Tramiel, detailing specifications, pricing, features and design innovations that he thought should be included. Tramiel was impressed and put Tomczyk in charge of guiding the development and market development of the new computer.
Tomczyk and Tramiel named the new computer the “VIC-20” and set the price at $299.95. Tomczyk was given the additional title of “VIC Czar” (at a time when Washington had an “Energy Czar”).
Tomczyk recruited a product management team called the “VIC Commandos” and implemented a variety of innovations including a unique user manual, programming reference guide (which he co-authored), software on tape and cartridge, as well as a distinctive array of packaging, print ads and marketing materials. The new computer was introduced at Seibu Department Store as the VIC-1001 in Tokyo in September 1980, and as the VIC-20 at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1981; and subsequently in Canada, Europe and Asia. The VIC-20 became the first microcomputer to sell one million units. Star Trek star William Shatner was recruited to promote the new home computers.
In 1981, Tomczyk established the Commodore Information Network, an early implementation of an Internet-style user community. To enable adoption of telecomputing, he contracted the engineering for (and co-designed) the VICModem, which became the first modem priced under $100, and the first to sell one million units. To promote telecomputing, he negotiated free telecomputing services from CompuServe, The Source (online service) and Dow Jones. In 1982, the Commodore network was the largest traffic “site” on CompuServe. The Commodore Information Network has been called an early Internet style user community, before innovations in the graphic user interface brought the Internet to life.
The VIC-20 was followed by the more powerful Commodore 64. These computers introduced millions of people worldwide to home computing and telecomputing, and laid the foundation for ubiquitous worldwide computing. Tomczyk's experiences are described in his 1984 book, "The Home Computer Wars."*
Tomczyk left Commodore in 1984, six months after Jack Tramiel left the company. He subsequently served as a consultant to technology startups and international trade projects. He was a contributing editor of Export Today Magazine for nearly 10 years, and authored more than 150 articles including computer magazine columns (Compute! and Compute!'s Gazette, 1980–85), a business newspaper column, book chapters and numerous magazine articles.
In December 2012, Tomczyk spoke at the launch the Video Game Museum (ViGaMus) in Rome, Italy, which has an exhibit of vintage Commodore computers with stories and photos of Jack Tramiel and Tomczyk.
The Wharton Years
In 1995 he joined the Wharton School as Managing Director of the Emerging Technologies Management Research Program at the Wharton School, where he provided managerial leadership and worked with a core group of faculty to develop what has been called the world's leading academic center studying best practices and strategies for managing innovation. In 2001, the ET Program was expanded to the Mack Center for Technological Innovation, which in 2013 became the Mack Institute for Innovation Management, which is supported by a $50 million endowment. Michael left the Mack Institute in October 2013 and retired from the University of Pennsylvania in June 2014.
As Managing Director of the Mack Institute, Tomczyk served as a bridge between academia and industry partners. For more than 12 years he hosted an annual event he originated, called the Emerging Technologies Update Day, which showcased radical innovations looming on the near horizon that had the potential to transform industries and markets. In 2000 he helped launch the BioSciences Crossroads Initiative and in 2006 co-authored (with Paul J. H. Schoemaker) a major research report entitled: “The Future of BioSciences: Four Scenarios for 2020 and Their Implications for Human Healthcare” (May 2006). He has written articles about gene therapy, Internet applications, and many other technologies. Michael edited the Mack Institute's website and an electronic newsletter; taught sessions on radical innovation in the Wharton Executive Education Program and taught classes in Wharton's MBA program and at the UPENN School of Engineering. For almost a decade he served on the Commercialization Core committee developing translational medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.
While at Wharton, Tomczyk helped launch five successful technology startups, as an advisor and/or board member. During the 1990s he helped corporations develop and implement their Internet/ecommerce strategies. Throughout his career, he has advised numerous companies and government agencies on international technology projects and the impact of disruptive technologies. He has keynoted numerous industry events on emerging technologies and radical innovation. For several years, he served on the advisory group for the Advanced Computing department at Temple University.
In the early 2000s he developed an interest in nanotechnology, which he felt most business leaders did not yet understand. He served on the leadership committee for the IEEE/IEC initiative which developed standards for Nanotechnology and is a founding strategic advisor of the Nanotechnology Research Foundation. His interest in nanotechnology led him to write a book entitled "NanoInnovation: What Every Manager Needs to Know," NanoInnovation: What Every Manager Needs to Knowpublished by Wiley in November 2014. As part of his research for the book, he interviewed more than 150 nanotechnology scientists, entrepreneurs and leaders in business and government.
In July 2014, Michael was appointed Innovator in Residence at Villanova University's ICE Center (Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship). At Villanova, he hosts innovation events, teaches and advises students, and works with industry partners. In December 2014 he designed and co-hosted the first annual Villanova Innovation Update Day, a showcase for emerging technologies and applications that are changing industries and markets.
Military Service. Michael Tomczyk served three years in the U.S. Army (1970-73 - highest rank Captain), working for military commands including the XVIII Airborne Corps (Ft. Bragg), lst Signal Brigade (Vietnam) and USASTRATCOM/United Nations Command (Korea). As Public Information Officer at Fort Bragg, he helped launch the Volunteer Army (VOLAR) which was being piloted in 1970. He experienced combat and was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service in Vietnam (1971–72). He received the Army Commendation Medal for service in Korea (1973). He served in the Army Reserve after active duty.
Education. He holds an M.B.A. from U.C.L.A. and a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, where he received a Distinguished Alumni Award. He earned a master's degree in environmental studies from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2010 and earned an A+ on his capstone project which was entitled "The Paradoxes of Global Warming."
Publications. Michael began his career as a journalist and has published more than 150 articles, including a monthly column (as Contributing Editor) for Export Today; a column on BASIC programming for Compute's Gazette (The VIC Magician).; a business how-to column for the West Chester Daily News; and articles for Associated Press, the New York Times, Stars and Stripes, and many other publications. In 2005 he co-edited (with Paul Schoemaker) a 134-page research report entitled: The Future of BioSciences: Four Scenario for 2020 and Their Implications for Human Healthcare. In 2011, he authored a chapter entitled "Applying the Marketing Mix (5 P's) to Bionanotechnology" in the book "Biomedical Nanotechnology" (Springer 2011). His memoir (THE HOME COMPUTER WARS, 1984) has become a collectible. His book, NanoInnovation: What Every Manager Needs to Know (Wiley, 2014)is the first in a series of books focusing on technological innovation.
Current Writing Projects. He is currently preparing an updated e-book (kindle) version of The Home Computer Wars, and is writing an autobiography that will include recollections and rare unpublished photos of celebrities he has encountered during his career, including such notables as Bob Hope, Richard Nixon, Billy Graham and Jane Fonda. His next business book, currently in progress, will focus broadly on radical and disruptive innovation.
Notes and references
- Tomczyk, Michael (2014). NanoInnovation: What Every Manager Needs to Knowm. Wiley, ISBN 978-3-527-32672-3.
- Tomczyk, Michael (2011). "Applying the Marketing Mix (5 P's) to Bionanotechnology". Biomedical Nanotechnology: Methods and Protocols, Sarah Hurst (ed.), ISBN 978-1-61779-051-5.
- Schoemaker, Paul J.H. and Tomczyk, Michael (2006). The Future of BioSciences: Four Scenarios for 2020 and Their Implications for Human Healthcare.
- Tomczyk, Michael (1984). The Home Computer Wars: An Insider's Account of Commodore and Jack Tramiel. COMPUTE! Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-942386-75-2.
- A.Persidis and M.Tomczyk, Critical Issues in Commercialization of Gene Therapy. Nature Biotechnology, Vol 15, p. 689-690, 1997.