Here are two words you should know about Paul Egerman: politics and prunes.
Egerman is the 57-year-old CEO of eScription Inc. , a medical transcription company based in Needham. He and his wife, Joanne , donated $50,000 to Governor Deval Patrick's inauguration committee, making them the largest individual contributors.
While the Egermans may not be well -known to the public, they are to politicians, particularly Democrats. Over the years they've donated more than $1 million to support numerous election campaigns, including for two US senators, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, and Robert Reich, who ran in the Bay State gubernatorial primary a few years back.
But perhaps none of the checks would have been possible without the lessons of Egerman's humble upbringing in the land of dried plums.
"In elementary school we learned a lot about prunes and were very proud that we were the prune capital of the world," Egerman said recently about growing up in San Jose , Calif. "A lot of the school year was oriented around the canning and farming season."
While many CEOs rail against labor unions and government, Egerman talks of their virtues.
"As a child, I remember very clearly when the store my grandfather was working for got acquired, and he was laid off," said Egerman. "It was the labor union who took care of him and our family."
At the age of 8, Egerman was told he would not be allowed back in school until he was vaccinated against polio; the potentially life-saving shots were supplied by the government.
"I remember waiting on this very long line on a hot day, and as I got closer and closer to the point where they were giving the vaccinations , I could hear the kids crying," he said. As the line grew shorter, the voices became louder and louder.
Determined not to shed a tear when he received the shot, Egerman kept a stiff upper lip.
More than five decades later, he's still proud of his bravery that day.
"Vaccinating everyone and eradicating that disease . . . There's a role for government to do things like that , and it's an important role," Egerman said.
Egerman said he feels Americans are ready for a new approach to government. He is a member of a regional fund-raising committee for Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign. It was not easy, he said, deciding between Obama, the Democratic Party's rising star from Illinois, and Clinton; he was not happy with the New York senator's explanation of her vote on the Iraq war in 2002.
"Our political leaders need to be able to admit to their mistakes," said Egerman. "I believe that our country has been going in the wrong direction for the past six years."
Egerman was raised by his mother, a schoolteacher, and spent a lot of time with her Russian immigrant parents. His grandfather left Russia at the end of the Bolshevik Revolution via China, landing in San Francisco a year later. He became a butcher and owner of a small delicatessen.
"A lot of my values definitely come from him," said Egerman, citing two of his grandfather's credos that have served him well in his own career: "Never weigh your finger" and "Know the names of your customers' children."
Egerman left San Jose to attend MIT, where he majored in math. His first job out of school, in 1971, was as a computer programmer at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was among the pioneers in computerizing medical records.
At 24, he launched his first company, Interpretive Data Systems, or IDS, out of his Brookline basement.
"I've never been good at naming anything," said Egerman. "I knew
He remained with the company for 20 years, until it went public, and Egerman wound up with more money than he could have imagined. He traveled around the world with his wife and two sons and "tried to do everything I wanted in life," he said. After two years he'd had enough.
"I used to hate waking up in the morning and not have something to do. I used to find it stressful that I had no stress," said Egerman.
It was through his work with Common Angels, a group of software executives who volunteer their time to help new companies get off the ground , that he met his second business partner, Ben Chigiar.
Chigiar was interested in speech-recognition software; Egerman supplied the administrative aspect of computers and healthcare.
Again Egerman started the business in his basement, this time in Weston. After eight years, eScription has 150 employees and "is growing about 40 to 50 percent a year, serving very large healthcare organizations like Beth Israel, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Vanguard," said Egerman.
Doctors use eScription's voice-recognition software for dictation. Rather than typing the text, transcribers just have to edit it -- which Egerman said takes half the time.
Where would he like to see himself in five years?
"I certainly don't see myself retiring," said Egerman. "I tried it once , and I wasn't good at it."
AROUND THE TOWNS -- Newton Mayor David B. Cohen and Wellesley resident Billy Starr, Pan-Massachusetts Challenge founder and executive director, are among six selected as a "Hero of Humanity" by the Art of Living Foundation's Boston chapter . . . Lynne Pepall of Newton was named academic dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University.
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