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Robert Wiggins

Robert Wiggins

It required a lot of selling to persuade Bob Wiggins to sit for an interview, for justifiable reasons. He was still embroiled in a contentious lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors against Paradyne and eight current or former executives, including him. The 14-count indictment charged the defendants with lying, offering bribes and defrauding the government to win a $115-Million contract with the U.S. Social Security Administration. In 1987, Paradyne settled the federal criminal charges for $1.2 Million in fines and by ousting its chairman and president, Robert Wiggins. Bob was unwilling to rehash any of those events in an interview. Not surprisingly, Paradyne continued to mount loses, even on strong sales of $232.6 Million in 1987, due in large measure to the heavy legal costs incurred fighting the federal investigation. When losses continued into 1988, Paradyne found itself the subject of acquisition interests. Bob had no interest in discussing these events, either. So I had to assure him, that I only wanted to understand the history of Paradyne, particularly in comparison to the histories of its two key competitors, Codex and Milgo, not the lawsuits nor potential corporate suitors. With those agreements, Bob finally agreed to be interviewed.

I had to honor Bob’s wishes even as I was curious as to what had changed. When I met Bob at the Alex. Brown & Sons investment conference in March 1983, he had been at the top of “his game.” To possibly gain insight as to why the changes, I asked Jay Hill, a mutual friend and also someone I had interviewed, to gain some perspective. In his words, here is Jay Hill on Robert Wiggins:

I first met Bob Wiggins in 1976 when I was interviewing for VP of Sales and Marketing for Paradyne. At the time, Paradyne was a sub $5 million company and not well known. Bob had been there just two years and was struggling to find growth, but had a vision for the company that was both intriguing and persuasive. Even though there was risk involved in joining an unproven company, Bob was such an impressive person, I hopped on board and moved to Florida – a decision I never regretted. I had reason to in late ’76 when our largest customer, Datran, filed for bankruptcy. Bob never showed concern and guided us out of the crises and soon we were growing again.
Bob had a solid background with IBM and GTE before joining Paradyne. Yet it was his entrepreneurial spirit that led the company from $2.5 million to $300 million during his tenure. He balanced his leadership attributes as a strong taskmaster - setting aggressive goals for all around him - with being a coach – and pulling alongside a teammate or group to help them solve a problem or encourage them to go further. He also had a penchant for technological achievement and kept Paradyne either at the top, or close to it, with the most advanced products in the market.”

Keywords: Lease-Line Modems, Datran; Codex, Racal-Milgo

Robert Wiggins Interviewed by James Pelkey 11/29/88