Venture capitalists tend to prefer to stay under the radar. You’ve heard of the big firms (Accel Partners, Sequoia, Founders Fund, Greylock, Kleiner Perkins), but the characters behind them — who tend to be incredibly wealthy — usually try to maintain a far lower profile than the businesses they invest in.
Well, that was until last week, when Tom Perkins (co-founder of Kleiner Perkins, pictured) compared “the richest 1%” of Americans to the millions of Jews killed by Hitler during World War II in a letter to The Wall Street Journal.
Let’s take a step back. Kleiner’s comments come amid rising tensions in San Francisco. A form of economic dualism appears to have erupted, with wealthy employees of tech firms like Google, Facebook and Salesforce causing higher house and rental prices (it costs around US$3200 a month to rent a two-bedroom house in SF) and enjoying luxurious, air-conditioned, wi-fi-enabled buses while the general public look on. The protests in recent weeks appear to have escalated, with Google executive Anthony Levandowski targeted and prevented from leaving his property, along with Google buses. (In response to the issue, the City of San Francisco is imposing a $1 charge every time a Google bus makes a pick-up or drop-off at a public stop, which appears to be a Google Tax without any real rationale.)
It was in the context of rising tensions that Perkins, who has an estimated personal wealth of around US$8 billion (yes, billion), penned his WSJ letter, where he claimed:
“I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent’, namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich’.”
He went on:
“We have, for example, libellous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a ‘snob’ despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.”
(Perkins forgot to mention that Steel is his former wife).
It perhaps never occurred to the Harvard-educated Perkins that middle-class anger at the rising wealth of the top 1% is somewhat different to the systematic extermination of millions of innocent people. Perhaps ironically, the heads of most of the big tech companies Perkins was ham-fistedly trying to defend are themselves Jewish (Google’s Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt are all Jewish, as is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg).
Kleiner Perkins — Perkins’ former firm — was very quick to distance itself from its former founder’s comments, tweeting within hours:
Marc Andreessen, former Netscape boss and well-known VC, said:
In 2008, the WSJ reported that Perkins was in the process of selling his 289-foot sailboat, the Maltese Falcon (which cost somewhere between US$150-300 million to build), and also owned a US$450,000 Porsche, a Bentley, an Aston Martin, a US$45 million house in Aspen and a 900-year-old moated manor in England, noting that Perkins was “rich, vulgar and proud”.
Looks like not much has changed.