Alan Patricof is more than an inspiring financier, philanthropist, and citizen. The 87-year-old venture capital pioneer is legendary, and he shared countless tips and sources of inspiration when we sat down with me last month on The Caring Economyto discuss legendary career in venture capital, as well as his sources of inspiration at every turn.
Patricof grew up in a Jewish family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, the son of parents who had immigrated from Russia to the United States. His father was a small-time stockbroker Patricof graduated from the Ohio State University in 1955 and earned an M.B.A. from Columbia University in 1957 while working full-time as an analyst for an investment firm.
He attributes his first job on Wall Street to luck and pounding the pavement.He was assigned the management of the Gottesman pulp and paper fortuneand focused his efforts on the new private companies in the portfolio. He states: “I happened by luck to end up in a very high-quality investment counseling firm… as a security analyst. And that’s how I started my career.”
In 1967, he invested in New York magazine, a new publication, where he served as the founding chairman of the board member. The magazine proved a success and by 1969, he was able to raise $2.5 million and founded one of the first venture capital firms, Patricof Company Ventures and then in 1977, he founded the private equity firm Apax Partners.
By the mid-1990s Apax had become one of the larger private equity firms globally. In 2001, Patricof stepped back from day-to-day management of the firm, to return to his original focus on venture capital investments in small early-stage companies. In 2006, he left Apax to form Greycroft Partners which focuses on such investments.
Through his three businesses — Apax Partners, Greycroft, and his newest venture, Primetime Partners — Patricof has built a legacy and worked with some of the biggest names, from America Online and Office Depot to Venmo and Apple and beyond. However, he is quick to point out that he’s lived a dynamic life beyond the four walls of an office.
Beyond the office, he’s also committed to living a full, eclectic life. At 87, that means signing up for his sixth New York Marathon and attending his first visit to Burning Man, the celebrated counterculture festival high in the Nevada desert.
“My life is just not business… I’ve spent time in politics,” he says. “I’ve spent times in the art field and the music field.”Plus, he’s well known for his bustling social agenda, which often includes three events a night — just another part of his commitment to no red lights.
When we discussed his stellar career and robust life, we got a preview of his new book, No Red Lights: Reflections on Life, 50 Years in Venture Capital, and Never Driving Alone, in which he shares a useful roadmap for building a life and career that is successful, interesting, and fulfilling. The memoir serves as a guidebook for younger people looking to start their entrepreneurial journey and for older people looking to write a new chapter in their lives.
Some of the key ideas in the book that we touched upon in our interview include:
- Never forget the fundamentals – no matter what industry you’re in.
- When considering an investment, keep the big picture in mind.
- Cultivate and maintain relationships throughout your career.
- To have a successful business career, you must be constantly curious.
- Learn which products are right – and wrong – for venture investing.
- Build a culture of mutual respect within your firm.
- Don’t overstep the boundaries of your role in a business.
- Keep your eyes and ears peeled for paradigm shifts in your field.
- Take a hands-on approach to conducting due diligence.
- Make your core convictions a part of your business and stick to them.
- Speak up about your beliefs, even when they may make you unpopular.
- Always remain adaptable – in business and in life.
He advises readers to always make a good impression, stating: “At the beginning of your career, you’ll meet a lot of different people. While you may not remember every interaction you have, you always leave an impression on others—make sure it’s a good one. Important connections can come from unexpected places.” He goes on to share a LinkedIn article, “You Don’t Remember Me, But” that outlines his rules for building a great reputation with everyone you meet so they do remember you.
He also advises readers to commit to thoughtful communication — since the advent of social media, communication has become complex. With so many options like email, text messages, and of course phone calls, he reminds us that it’s important to master the fundamentals of good communication.
“I try to remind myself every day that treating people well is important to building a reputation and a career,” he says.
As well, he encourages readers to build life experience and stop to smell the roses: “When you’re just getting started in your career, it’s easy to get bogged down. You may have been told to keep your head down, focus on your craft, and make work your top priority. And you probably want to gain the experience fast so you can prove yourself to hiring managers, coworkers, and bosses.”
Finally, he states: “Don’t get caught in a rut. “Don’t get caught in one focus in your life. Taste politics. Taste art. Taste theater, music, dance, and travel. Whatever opportunities come to you, don’t let them pass you by.”
The book and author are worth your attention as witnessed by some stellar book reviews. For example, Steve Case, the entrepreneur, and former CEO of America Online states: “Alan Patricof has always been ahead of the curve. I saw that firsthand as Alan invested in America Online in its infancy, when only 3 percent of consumers were online, and most people didn’t believe in the Internet’s potential—but he did. This book is packed full of riveting stories from Alan’s extraordinary life, that can help inspire and guide your life.”
Similarly, President Bill and Secretary Hillary Clinton laud him by stating: “Our dear friend Alan Patricof is one of the most fascinating people we know—constantly looking for new ways to learn and grow, to be ahead of the next curve, and to embark on another adventure.”
As with all guests on The Caring Economy, Patricofexemplifies how leaders with purpose-driven lives and careers are shaping our contemporary workplace for the better.