Silicon Valley pioneer Eugene Kleiner, whose ideas and money spawned a brood of high-tech giants, has died. He was 80. Kleiner died of heart failure Thursday at his Los Altos Hills, Calif., home, according to a family statement issued Monday announcing his death.
ALTHOUGH HE SHUNNED the limelight most of his life, Kleiner played a pivotal role in building Silicon Valley, first as a scientist, then as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. In the 1950s, Kleiner helped lay the groundwork for one of Silicon Valley’s seminal companies, Fairchild Semiconductor.
The company revolutionized the chip industry and became the entrepreneurial breeding ground that hatched several other groundbreaking companies, including Silicon Valley bellwethers Intel Corp., National Semiconductor and Advanced Micro Devices.
During the early 1970s, he founded one of nation’s most powerful venture capital firms, Menlo Park’s Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, which has financed a long line of high-tech powerhouses, including Sun Microsystems, Tandem Computers, Compaq Computer and Amazon.com.
“Helping entrepreneurs find their way was a source of great pride for him,” Kleiner’s son, Robert, said Monday.
A native Austrian who fled Europe before World War II, Kleiner eventually settled in California during the mid-1950s when he and seven other East Coast scientists were recruited by Nobel Prize winner William Shockley to help build computer transistors.
Shockley’s recruits eventually rebelled and left their startup to form their own company. The defection tagged the men with an unflattering nickname — “the Traitorous Eight.”
With their subsequent achievements, the men would be hailed as Silicon Valley’s founding fathers. Besides Kleiner, the eight men included Intel Corp. co-founders Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, as well as Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Jean Hoerni, Jay Last and Sheldon Roberts.
Using $3,500 of their own money, the entrepreneurs developed a way to manufacture multiple transistors on a single silicon wafer. The breakthrough enabled the men to raise $1.5 million from Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp. and launch Fairchild Semiconductor in October 1957.
Within six months, Fairchild Semiconductor was profitable.
Kleiner later reconnected with Noyce and Moore to become an early investor in Santa Clara-based Intel, now one of the most world’s most valuable companies with a market value of about $220 billion.
In 1972, Kleiner joined forces with Tom Perkins to form their own venture capital firm. Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers has gone to invest in more than 300 companies.
Although he remained a partner emeritus at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers until his death, Kleiner stepped down from a day-to-day role at the firm in the mid-1980s, his son said.
Kleiner, Perkins issued a short statement hailing its co-founder as a visionary who “virtually invented modern venture capital.”
Kleiner is survived by two children and four grandchildren. A public memorial service is scheduled on Dec. 5 in Los Altos Hills.
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