01 Dec 1997

Arthur Rock (MBA '51)


In 1957 a group of eight scientists, disenchanted with the management style of their Nobel Prize-winning boss, William Shockley, walked out of Shockley Semiconductor Laboratories in Palo Alto. Armed with the technical expertise to commercialize the semiconductor, the foresight to know that their product could change the world, and the drive to make it happen, they merely needed the money to get a new company started. The "traitorous eight," as they became known, enlisted the help of a visionary investment banker from New York, Arthur Rock (MBA '51).

After his first visit to northern California, Rock became a believer in the group's vision and set out to sell their idea to potential investors. Thirty-five companies turned him down; investing in something at the idea stage was too foreign to them. Eventually, Rock found Sherman Fairchild, an inventor willing to risk some of his family fortune on the venture. With a simple handshake between the two, northern California was changed forever - Fairchild Semiconductor, the first company to work solely in silicon, was born. Later, several spinoffs would emerge, including, with Rock's backing, Intel, now the world's largest producer of microprocessors. Equally important, the idea of stock options for employees and the use of venture capital financing became a standard part of the nascent high-technology industry.

As one of the founding fathers of venture capital - and the man credited with coining the term - Rock has been a major player in the development of the Valley. Working with Thomas J. Davis, Jr., in the firm Davis & Rock, as well as on his own (as Arthur Rock & Co.), Rock has backed many of the companies that make the Valley what it is today: Teledyne, Scientific Data Systems, Apple Computer, General Transistor, and Diasonics, to name a few.

Rock was eager to help when HBS began to consider setting up its first off-site research center in northern California. Rock had long been a supporter of the School: in 1982 he and classmate Fayez Sarofim funded the first HBS chair in entrepreneurial management. Rock agreed both to help fund the Center and to chair its steering committee.

At 71, the legendary venture capitalist now works out of a quiet San Francisco office. He spends much of his time serving on corporate and nonprofit boards and following a longtime interest: the San Francisco Giants. In reviewing his career, Rock says the key to success is having the right motivation. Remembering what he learned at HBS from Professor Georges Doriot, he says, "If you're interested in building a business to make money, forget it. You won't. If you're interested in building a business to make a contribution to society, then let's talk."


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