Microsoft Chairman Becomes Partner At One Of Silicon Valley’s hottest Firms

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Written by Ann Brown

The chairman of Microsoft Corp., John Thompson, has announced he will become a venture capitalist at Lightspeed, considered one of Silicon Valley’s hottest venture firms.

“Thompson’s appointment at Lightspeed makes him one of the most prominent Black venture capitalists,” Business Journal reported. “Venture capitalists are mostly white or Asian men, similar to the tech industry at large. There are few Black VCs, but Thompson is the second high-profile hire from the business world in recent months. In January, General Catalyst named Kenneth Chenault, the former American Express Co. CEO, as a partner.”

When Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates stepped down in 2014, Thompson took over as chairman. And it was he who put his support behind by Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella to modernize and push the company into the cloud sector.

“We first got to know John almost a decade ago when he had just joined a young startup called Virtual Instruments (in San Jose) as CEO,” Lightspeed’s Arif Janmohamed wrote in a blog. “We partnered with John through our investment in (Virtual Instruments) and we worked closely with him through a number of wins and challenges.”

Lightspeed Management Company, L.L.C. operates as a venture capital firm and invests in clean-tech, communications, digital media and wireless, enterprise infrastructure, and Internet media sectors. The firm was founded in October 2000 and as of 2012 it had more than $3 billion in committed capital.  Lightspeed raised two new funds totaling in $1.2 billion in 2016.

So far, Lightspeed has backed more than 300 companies, including Snapchat, DoubleClick, Playdom, and  Fastfox. Lightspeed also invests in abroad, with investment professionals and advisors in Israel, India, and China.

Thompson has had a long history in the tech world. He was CEO of Symantec Corp. in 1999, a post retired from in 2009. He was CEO of Virtual Instruments Corp. as well. He was also a vice president at IBM, where he spent 28. Thompson was appointed to the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations regarding the security of the critical infrastructure of the United States, in 2002. In 2005, he purchased a 20 percent share of the Golden State Warriors NBA team in partnership with three other Silicon Valley businessmen under the umbrella of the Bay Area Basketball Partners, L.L.C.

Thompson was an independent director on the board of Microsoft, and on February 4, 2014, he was appointed the chairman of the board. It was Thompson who led the search for Microsoft’s next CEO for which Nadella was selected.

And, he is already on the board of Lightspeed-backed Rubrik Inc. and Illumina Inc.

Thompson seems excited about becoming a partner in Lightspeed. “What’s clear from the time I’ve been in this industry is that innovation never stops,” he wrote in the announcement. “So, if you’re going to be helpful to companies large and small, you must have your finger on the pulse. Few firms have the reach and powerful footprint that Lightspeed does.”

Ann Brown
Image Attribution: Former Georgetown coach John Thompson, Jr., listens during an NCAA college basketball press conference to formally announce Georgetown's new basketball head coach Patrick Ewing, Wednesday, April 5, 2017, in Washington. Ewing played at Georgetown under coach Thompson. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)