Prior to earning degrees from Harvard College and the
London School of Economics, Tom Volpe had worked as a furniture mover
and paperboy, among other occupations. I never had to wear a jacket
and tie, says the gregarious Braintree, Massachusetts, native. Id
always done manual labor. But his longtime fascination with both the
stock market and inventors came to the fore when he entered the New
York investment world. After setting up a science and technology investment
banking group at Blyth Eastman PaineWebber, he became a partner in corporate
finance with California-based Hambrecht & Quist. Within six years, he
found himself leading the firm, but his own entrepreneurial aspirations
were too powerful to ignore. In 1986, he launched an investment firm
that specialized in rapidly growing companies. After thirteen successful
years, Volpe sold the outfit to Prudential Securities. Far from retirement,
Volpe spent the summer with his wife and two teenage sons at their house
in Maine, cooking up plans for his next venture. Ive always believed
if you can get at the front end of a big wave, says the eternal optimist,
you can make a lot of mistakes and still come out doing great.
Learned at HBS
As most people move through the educational
system, they become aware of what they cant do their options gradually
narrow down. My experience was just the opposite. HBS expanded my horizons
by making me aware of what I could do, rather than imposing upon me
what I couldnt.
Best part of the job
I constantly meet new entrepreneurs who
win, lose, or draw are fascinating human beings. To be successful
you need to be a memorable person, and entrepreneurs are almost invariably
My folks. I think that the character of the human
being is more important than his business ability, and thats something
I got from my parents.
Where the new economy is going
In any cyclical business oil,
gold, pork bellies, IPOs, venture capital the only constant is that
at both the top and the bottom of the cycle, people convince themselves
its no longer cyclical. The Internet is a big deal, but its not world-changing.
Its another improvement, like the PC was. I have never been more optimistic
than I am today about the future of technology.
Advice for current MBAs
It is a marathon. Dont flip out because
the job market is not as good today as it was a year ago. Think about
what you love and whats going to be important ten years from now.
Key elements in evaluating a business proposal
been a big bet the jockey, not the horse guy. Management and quality
of people are everything. Invariably, the Achilles heel of many companies
is not failing to develop the technology, but figuring out how to get
to market with it. How do you identify a prospect, make them a customer,
sell them something, get out, have a happy customer, and make a profit?
Pro bono work
Ive spent a lot of time and energy thinking
about education. Its one of those insidious problems that if you dont
fix today, nothing bad is going to happen tomorrow. But when we dont
do anything, it becomes a huge problem, and its not an easy fix.
Hope for your kids
I want them to be intellectually curious,
engaged in the world, excited about stuff, doing what they love. I want
them to have the nerve to pursue something that they are passionate
What is, is. I dont look back, I just
focus on whats coming next.
Mostly personal moments with my family and my kids, but professionally,
taking Genentech public and being involved in the birth of a whole new
industry biotech. Im also very proud of starting my own firm and
building it up.