01 Oct 2001

New Economy Notables: John Doerr

by Susan Young


The summer after his first year at HBS, armed with a master's in electrical engineering from Rice University, John Doerr moved to California for two reasons. "I wanted to apprentice with a venture capital firm," says Doerr, now a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of Silicon Valley's best-known venture firms. "But a higher priority was my girlfriend, Ann, who had just dumped me." While his initial advances into the VC world were thwarted, the move paid off romantically when Ann took him back, and he landed a job at the venture-backed company where she was working as an engineer — Intel. After marrying Ann and six successful years in various engineering, marketing, and management positions at the chipmaker, Doerr joined Kleiner Perkins in 1980. His impressive list of hits — Compaq, Netscape, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Sun Microsystems, and Amazon.com, to name a few — is not surprising given his thoughtfulness about technology. "The Internet," says Doerr, who is also an education activist, "may be evolutionary in its effect on business, but it is revolutionary in its effect on societies, democracy, and globalization."

First job
A lemonade stand. And then Burger Chef, where you could say I helped serve their demand chain.

Learned at HBS
If you want to help teams achieve their very best, work at understanding others. Understand each individual's assumptions, perceptions, and feelings — the ambitions, fears, and motivation by which we make meaning in life.

Role models
My dad. He's my hero. I admire his enthusiasm, his ability to work with people and to pull teams together, and his love for and commitment to family.

Where the new economy is going
The new economy is led by businesses with network effects and increasing returns based on innovation and intellectual property. It's more than the Internet, more than Silicon Valley. At the moment, we're in a full-fledged tech recession in the United States, with scary implications for the global economy. Today's view of the new economy is "stupid low"; a year ago, it was "stupid high." I hope we return to normalcy in less than a year. In the long run, innovative tech businesses will continue to be our main engine of growth.

Key elements in evaluating a business proposal
First, the backgrounds of the entrepreneurs. Are these people we'd like to be in trouble with — because if we go into business together, we'll surely get into trouble. Next, what is the vision, the technology, and are we addressing a really large unserved market? Then, is the financing plan reasonable, and finally, is there a sense of urgency?

Advice for current MBAs
Cultivate a few mentors for personal and career development. Join a well-managed, growing organization. Keep family and friends first. Find your own way of giving back.

Pro bono work
I have three interests — education, the environment, and health care — but so far have only had an impact on education. In California we have strengthened the charter public school laws, provided funding for facilities, and lowered to 55 percent the threshold required to pass a local school bond. The net result is that over ten years, a million kids can graduate from new, high-performance, competitive schools, and $20 billion of desperately needed funding will be used to improve facilities. On the national level, I cofounded TechNet, a policy network to improve public education, and the New Schools Venture Fund, a venture philanthropy fund for education entrepreneurs.

Currently reading
Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather's Blessings, both by Rachel Remen, Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand, and Real World Photoshop 6, by David Blatner.

Biggest disappointment
That Ann and I didn't start our family sooner.

Best business advice
A mentor said integrity is like sand held in your hands. If you spread your fingers and let that sand flow through, you'll never get it back. Also, choose your partners wisely.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1976, Section C

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