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title Kathryn Gould

Luck v. Perseverance

Kathryn Gould, ’78, cofounder and general partner of Foundation Capital, looks for three qualities in CEOs of her Silicon Valley start-ups: They must be the best salesman in the company; they must be inspiring enough to recruit a great staff; and they must have the ability to “more or less point them in the right direction.”

“I don’t mean that the guy has to have all the strategic answers,” Gould told the Distinguished Fellows during Alumni Weekend at the Hyde Park Center on October 8. “But he better be able to recruit the team that can get to the right strategic answers.”

Gould calls the claim that she invests in “lucky people” a “ Silicon Valley thing.”

“A couple of failures [in a CEO’s past] is OK, especially if the stories are good, but too many of them starts to get on my nerves,” she said. “There are some guys who didn’t go to the right schools, seem less talented maybe, but kind of got it right a lot. That carries some weight to me.” Gould says that kind of success does not depend on luck. “Perseverance is a big thing—that and expecting to win,” she said. “You need a savvy to sort of work yourself into good spots.”

Some of the greatest turnaround CEOs—“not start-up CEOs, but fixing-the-mess CEOs”—are “really not that bright,” Gould said. “They’re like a notch down,” she said. “In a turnaround you’ve got to keep it sort of simple. You’ve got, like, 500 people who are lost and need guidance. You need someone to say, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do. Here’s what matters—this and this.’ And everybody goes, ‘Ah, I get that.’”

—Phil Rockrohr