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  • National Venture Capital Association Venture Capital Oral History Project

    Funded by Charles W. Newhall III

    Paul Wythes Interview Conducted and Edited by

    Mauree Jane Perry 2006

    All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the National Venture Capital Association. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the National Venture Capital Association.

    Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the National Venture Capital Association, 1655 North Fort Myer Drive, Suite 850, Arlington, Virginia 22209, or faxed to: 703-524-3940. All requests should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

    Copyright © 2009 by the National Venture Capital Association www.nvca.org

  • This collection of interviews, Venture Capital Greats, recognizes the contributions of individuals who have followed in the footsteps of early venture capital pioneers such as Andrew Mellon and Laurance Rockefeller, J. H. Whitney and Georges Doriot, and the mid-century associations of Draper, Gaither & Anderson and Davis & Rock — families and firms who financed advanced technologies and built iconic US companies.

    Each interviewee was asked to reflect on his formative years, his career path, and the subsequent challenges faced as a venture capitalist. Their stories reveal passion and judgment, risk and rewards, and suggest in a variety of ways what the small venture capital industry has contributed to the American economy.

    As the venture capital industry prepares for a new market reality in the early years of the 21st century, the National Venture Capital Association reports (2008) that venture capital investments represented 2% of US GDP and was responsible for 10.4 million American jobs and 2.3 trillion in sales. These figures, while significant, greatly understate the collective accomplishments of the venture capital industry.

    I’m pleased to have supported this project, which I believe will advance the understanding of the venture capital industry. This collection, along with Paul Bancroft’s Bay Area oral history project at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and Paul Holland’s Silicon Valley project for the Western Association of Venture Capitalists, will add significantly to a growing body of venture capital memoirs available to the public sector.

    A special note of gratitude goes to each interviewee who generously gave of his time while candidly sharing his memories. Their recollections bring to life the dynamic story of venture capital in the 20th century, providing a powerful perspective on the history of this industry. Charles W. Newhall III Spring 2009

  • VENTURE CAPITAL GREATS

    A Conversation with Paul Wythes

  • With almost fifty years of business experience, Paul Wythes is one of America’s most

    successful as well as one of its first venture capitalists. In 1964 he founded and helped build his

    firm, Sutter Hill Ventures, just five years after he graduated from the Stanford Business School.

    Sutter Hill Ventures today is the oldest venture firm on the West Coast and has nurtured many of

    the valley’s most successful companies. Paul Wythes also helped found the National Venture

    Capital Association in 1972.

  • Mauree Jane Perry: Today is Monday, May 8, 2006. My name is Mauree Jane Perry, Oral

    Historian. This is an interview with Paul Wythes in his office in Palo Alto, California.

    It’s a pleasure to be with you, and I thank you in advance for your time.

    Paul Wythes: Thank you very much Mauree Jane.

    MJP: What I thought we would do is begin with your personal history: where and when you

    were born and a little bit about your childhood.

    PW: Okay. Well, let’s see where to begin. I was born in 1933, June 23, to be exact, coming

    up shortly on my 73rd birthday, in a little town in Southern New Jersey. Actually, I was

    born in Camden, New Jersey, which is today a war zone. It is the only city in the state of

    New Jersey that is being run by the state, because they don’t know how to run it locally.

    Well anyway, born there and grew up; I was raised in a little town called Haddonfield,

    New Jersey, which is about 15 miles due east of Philadelphia on the road to Ocean City,

    New Jersey. And it was a great town to grow up in. In fact, it’s still pretty much the

    same. When I was growing up there were a lot of farms around the town. It’s an old

    Quaker town with a lot of American Revolutionary history to it. They still build the

    buildings in downtown with a reference to our architectural past. I remember when they

    built the A & P Supermarket, it was built in the colonial architectural style. Not a typical

    A & P store. George Washington went through there. The slave trade was going along

    through this town. There are some tunnels underneath the Old King’s Highway, which is

    the main drag, where they moved slaves from one side to the other to hide them and so

    forth.

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    It was a great place to grow up. No crime. It still is a small town, but was then sort of a

    bedroom to some major companies that were primarily in Camden, New Jersey. There

    was RCA, which had its headquarters there and also the Campbell Soup Company. A lot

    of executives lived in Haddonfield. So it was by most standards a fairly affluent town,

    although we were not part of that affluence, because my father would spend his entire

    career in education.

    I have two older brothers. They were both great partners to grow up with. We used to

    have our differences, but we also worked them out. We were known as the three

    “Wythes” men. Wise spelled differently! I went K through 12 in Haddonfield, all in the

    public system; and I did quite well in high school.

    MJP: Academically?

    PW: Academically. Pretty much all around. It was not a big high school. It was just shy of

    200, I think, in the graduating class. And I graduated, I think number three in the class

    and was a member of the National Honor Society. But I was also president of the student

    body, co-editor of our high school year book, and captain of the basketball team, played

    football and baseball as well; although my dad told me when I was a freshman in high

    school that I had to drop one of those three sports, because he wanted me to focus on

    academics. I dropped football, but I played varsity baseball and basketball, and was co-

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    editor of the newspaper. And then they have a big award they call the Childrey Award

    for the outstanding graduating senior, and I received that award my senior year at

    graduation.

    MJP: By your peers or—?

    PW: The faculty of the high school.

    MJP: What qualities were they recognizing?

    PW: Well, I think I never really understood what it was; I think it was a combination of

    academics and doing other things. I was on the debate team, and all that stuff helped, I

    am sure, to win it. And I don’t know whether I was a close first or a runaway, but at the

    time it was kind of a big deal.

    MJP: You said your father was in education. What did he do?

    PW: My father went to the University of Pennsylvania, and he got a master's at the University

    of Pennsylvania. He started out as a high school teacher in Camden, New Jersey, and then

    he was selected to become the first principal of a new high school called Woodrow

    Wilson High School. And that’s kind of interesting, because that name comes around to

    Princeton at some point.

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    He was the principal at Woodrow Wilson High School, I don’t remember how many

    years, but for quite awhile. And then he was asked to go up to Trenton as the number

    two guy in the state department of education for the state of New Jersey. I remember as a

    kid, I was afraid we were going to move to Trenton, or Princeton, or somewhere near

    Trenton. And he said, “No, no. I’m going to take this job and just commute myself.”

    And in those days that was not an easy commute, because there wasn’t a freeway. You

    had to go up U.S.