Dec 10, 2019

Deaths of investment pioneers leave gap in institutional knowledge

An office desk and chair with no one sitting in it.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Venture capital and private equity are integral parts of America's economy, but neither has really been around for very long. It's something I've been reminded of over the past month, as several of the industries' founding fathers have passed.

Driving the news: Bill Macaulay in 1983 co-founded First Reserve, which would become the first global private equity firm focused exclusively on energy. Until 2017 he'd lead First Reserve, which has raised over $35 billion for its funds. Macaulay died last week at the age of 74, leaving behind wife Linda and daughters Elizabeth and Anne.

Frank Caufield and Brook Byers in 1977 teamed up with Eugene Kleiner and Tom Perkins to expand Kleiner Perkins into the legendary VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. His deals would include AOL and Caremark, and he'd serve as president of the National Venture Capital Association.

  • Caufield passed away shortly before Thanksgiving at the age of 80. He's survived by son Frank (founder of Darwin Ventures) and daughter Kirsten.

Pete Musser in 1953 founded what would become Safeguard Scientifics, an investment group that evolved its focus from industrials to Internet tech. It's one of those firms that would be much-better known if it wasn't based in the Philly suburbs, but its history included selling Ralph Roberts the first of the cable TV systems that would become Comcast, backing Novell, and seeding Internet Capital Group to dotcom-era prominence. It also was one of the original startup "incubators."

  • Mussser died in late November at the age of 90.

Don Valentine, the founder of Sequoia Capital and an early investor in companies like Apple and Cisco, passed away in late October.

Plenty of veteran firm founders remain not only alive, but very much healthy and in charge. But the truth is that we're rapidly losing institutional, foundational knowledge. History passing before our eyes.

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