We’re here at the PandoMonthly fireside chat between Sarah Lacy and Netscape co-founder and Andreessen Horowitz partner Ben Horowitz. Sarah pointed out that Ben is a bit of a Silicon Valley historian as well as a renowned management coast and asked about his top-5 founders (or minds) in Silicon Valley history.
The first person out of his mouth was legendary Intel CEO Andy Grove, whom he first met at Silicon Graphics. Horowitz called Grove maybe his favorite founder of all time and “the toughest, smartest guy ever to run a company in these parts.” (Spoken in a southern drawl.)
“Andy was more extreme. He was really smarter than anybody almost,” says Horowitz. “Here was a guy that completely revolutionized computer graphics while he was at Stanford…so he really was a genius.”
Horowitz recounted the story of Grove’s early life, which involved escaping WWII Hungary as an 18-year-old and making his way to America. He nearly failed out of CCNY as a Physics student because he barely spoke English. Horowitz called the pivot Grove orchestrated at Intel the both the greatest and largest pivot in the history of Silicon Valley.
Next, he turned to Dave Packard. Horowitz says, “What they did culturally, in terms of organizational design, enabling them to transition from an instruments company to a computer company was brilliant.”
Almost apologetically, Horowitz then says, “Steve Jobs, of course.” He pointed out that when he started, Jobs wasn’t a very good CEO. He even went out and recruited his own replacement in John Scully at one point. Sarah asked Horowitz whether he agreed with Larry Ellison, who recently said that Jobs should never have been let go, or with Pixar CEO Ed Catmull who said, Jobs changed while at NeXT and could have never been the CEO he was without that experience.
Horowitz chose the middle ground, answering both. He says, “One of our big tenets is that the founder is instrumental to the company. They should have dealt with Steve’s weaknesses in order to keep his massive strengths. And they were weaknesses — cursing people out for no reason is not part of the genius. It’s just idiotic!”
At this point, after only three founders named, Sarah jumped in and asked about his favorite within the current generation. Horowitz said, “I’m a big fan of Mark Zuckerberg.” He has worked closely with the Facebook founder since 2007, beginning at a time when he was incredibly criticized. “ValleyWag called for his head,” Horowitz remembered.
At this point, he said Zuckerberg was still learning ot be CEO and had a staff that didn’t believe in the long term potential of the company. “Watching him figure that out and become the CEO he’s become was very impressive,” Horowitz remembers. “How they hire, how they think about titles and train people, is incredibly impressive. Plus he has a great vision for the company.”
Finally, Sarah asked Horowitz to compare Zuckerberg with his partner and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen. “Spending a lot of time with Marc and Mark, I couldn’t help thinking I was looking back in time from one to the other,” Sarah says.
“What they had to go though was similar,” says Horowitz. ”What’s been helpful to Zuckerberg is having Andreessen. They have had a similar moments in the spotlight, but have very different personalities.”
He believes that Zuckerberg is more focused and steady, while Andreessen is so broad in areas of interest and expertise. The Netscape co-founder desn’t have as good a temperment for management as his Facebook counterpart, Horowitz feels. Andreessen goes more up and down. Sarah remembered a comment by Andreessen when he told her that he manages like the Incredible Hulk.
Sarah and Ben Horowitz only made their way through four past and current founders, with a comparison to his partner Marc Andreessen thrown in for good measure. Horowitz says that he still incorporates the things he learned from these and other mentors into his daily business dealings.
To continue watching the video livestream of tonight’s event, go here.