The Crazy Life Of Tom Perkins, The Man Who Thinks Critics Of The Rich Are Like Nazis

Over the weekend, legendary Valley venture capitalist Tom Perkins caused a firestorm in a letter to the editor to The Wall Street Journal in which he said people who criticised the rich were like Nazis who persecuted the Jews in the 1930s.

The comments caused an outcry in the Valley, with most people condemning them, although one other prominent VC, Tim Draper of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, defended Perkins.

This is far for the first time that the 82-year-old Perkins, often called the “Father of Silicon Valley,” has caused controversy.

His life story is a continuous string of over-the-top-ness, filled with luxury excess, boardroom drama, even a conviction of manslaughter in a French court.

Yes, he's rich

Tom Perkins is rich, though it's not clear exactly how rich.

The Celebrity Net Worth blog estimates that he's worth $US8 billion today. He's not currently on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans, nor on Bloomberg's Billionaire index.

But he's been rich for decades, and there's no reason to believe that he's in danger of falling from the 1% anytime soon, or ever.

His famous mega-yacht: The Maltese Falcon

Tom Perkins' 289-foot yacht, the Maltese Falcon.

Perkins is known for building the mega-yacht, The Maltese Falcon, the subject of a '60 Minutes profile' in 2007.

The Falcon was the world's largest privately owned sailboat of the day, and full of technological breakthroughs.

Someone once called it a 'big boatload of ego,' and when '60 Minutes'' Lesley Stahl asked him about that, he laughed and said, 'Somebody has to have it, right? Why not me?'

The boat cost $US130 million to build, had 11,000 square feet of living space, and a crew of 20, including a gourmet chef. He sold it in 2009.

He was once convicted of manslaughter in France

Tom Perkins

In 1996, Perkins was racing his yacht in France when he collided with a smaller boat, killing a French doctor on board, he wrote in his 2008 memoir, 'Valley Boy: The Education of Tom Perkins.'

Perkins was found guilty by a French court. Jail sentences were suspended, and he was ordered to pay a fine of $US10,000.

Perkins described it like this: 'Arrested and tried in a foreign court in a language you don't understand, by judges indifferent -- or worse -- to justice, represented by an inappropriate lawyer with the negative outcome preordained.'

He was once married to Danielle Steele

Danielle Steele's hedge

Tom Perkins was married twice. His first marriage was to Gerd Thune-Ellefsen for over 30 years until she died in in 1994.

In 1998, he married his longtime friend, romance novelist Danielle Steele. He was Steele's fifth husband. The marriage didn't last long -- they divorced, amicably, in 2002.

Perkins used an incident with Steele as evidence that rich critics are Nazis, writing:

We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in The (San Francisco) 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.

He was referring to an article in the newspaper that made fun of how huge the hedge in front of her house is.

He got his start at Hewlett-Packard

Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett

Perkins got an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School in the 1950s. In 1963 he was recruited by Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett to lead HP's first R&D facility.

While at HP, he started his own laser company called University Laboratories (UL) and guided that through a merger with Spectra-Physics. He then served on the board at Spectra-Physics, which became a leading laser company. This gave him the cash to start his own venture capital firm with partner Eugene Kleiner: Kleiner Perkins.

Today, Kleiner Perkins is known as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), and it's still one of the leading VC firms in the Valley.

At Kleiner Perkins, he helped invent today's tech VC model

Early Netscape employees

Kleiner Perkins was considered one of the founders of the Valley because when it invested, the VC wasn't just a silent partner.

He and Kleiner took direct management roles with the companies they funded.

KPCB funded companies like Amazon, AOL, Genentech, Google and Netscape.

At one point, Perkins was chairman of 14 of the companies he funded, including three public companies on the NYSE, according to MIT's alumni magazine.

The Hewlett-Packard board and Compaq fight

Carly Fiorina

Tom Perkins first joined the HP board back in 2001 when HP bought Compaq, a PC company he had backed.

He helped then-HP CEO Carly Fiorina wage war and win against the HP founder's heirs, who did not want to buy Compaq.

He stayed on the board until 2003, and then resigned, not knowing he would soon be back and at the center of even more controversy.

Perkin's epic battle with HP's Carly Fiorina

Pattie Dunn and Mark Hurd

In 2005, the HP board asked him to return, and he did. He played a controversial role in the firing of Carly Fiorina as chairman and CEO.

On '60 Minutes,' Fiorina accused Perkins of orchestrating her ouster, which he denied in that same report.

But he didn't deny engaging in battle with Pattie Dunn, who took over as HP chairman of the board. During a heated argument with Dunn, he resigned from the HP board 'in cold fury' in May 2006, he wrote in his memoir.

He then admitted on '60 Minutes' that he was involved in a behind-the-scenes campaign to get Dunn removed as chairman.

That battle involved accusations that Dunn hired private detectives to obtain board members' phone records to find out which of them were leaking info to the press. Criminal charges ensued, which Dunn fought and was cleared of. She died of cancer in 2011.

He told '60 Minutes': 'I realise that I'm gonna be accused of 'he hates women and he fires them or he can't stand them.' Or whatever,' Perkins said during the 2007 interview.

News Corp. controversy

Rupert Murdoch

In 2011, Perkins resigned from his long-standing board position at News Corp.

News Corp. was embroiled in allegations of spying on voicemail messages of celebrities, royals, politicians and crime victims at the time.

Perkins, who was 80 -- the same age as News Corp.'s Rupart Murdock -- insisted the spying scandal wasn't part of his decision to go. He quipped that the company should not have octogenarians on its board 'unless one of them owns the company, which Rupert does.'

Big houses

Plumpton Place

Besides yachts, Tom Perkins is well known for his lavish real estate.

He once owned an actual English manor house with a long pedigree called Plumpton Place. Plumpton Place had previously belonged to Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page.

It has six bedrooms, its own moat and was once listed for $US12 million.

A mansion in Belvedere, Calif.

Perkins' Belvedere Estate

For decades, Perkins' primary home was in a suburb north of San Francisco, the affluent area of Belvedere, Calif.

It was a 10,000-square-foot French manor house that was once listed for over $US20 million.

Luxurious life continued

Perkins' San Francisco penthouse

Today, he's known for his 60th-floor, 5,500-square-foot San Francisco penthouse, featured in The Wall Street Journal.

After selling his mega-yacht, he spent 2.5 years and $US9 million to revamp the penthouse so it would look like his former yacht.

It has floor-to-ceiling glass windows, cedar ceilings, massive sculptures and a kitchen that looks like a ship's galley.

More lifestyles of the rich and famous

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