||How Gary Rieschel 79
journeyed from biology student to top-ranking venture capitalist
|If there is such a thing as a typical Reed
biology major, Gary Rieschel 79 is about as far from it as you
can get. In his curricular choices at Reed, he roamed widelyphilosophy,
anthropology, history of science. For his senior thesis, he packed
a years worth of work into a mere four months. Twenty-plus years
later, hes not lecturing in a university or conducting research
for a biotech firm; hes earning kudos from Forbes and Fortune
as one of the best (and busiest) venture capitalists in the industry.
Rieschel heads Softbank Venture Capital (SBVC),
a Silicon Valleybased private equity VC firm managed by an unusual
team of technology pioneers and ex-CEOs and entrepreneurs. He set up SBVC
in 1996 for parent company Softbank Corp., and in four years he built
it into a $2.5 billion powerhouse. Times are more challenging in the industry
now, but Rieschel, who was elected to Reeds board of trustees last
year, maintains his driving pace, keeping his funds well focused both
stateside and in Asia.
The Oregon native is now a citizen of the world, but his years at Reed,
and in parti-cular the biology department, were seminal in many ways.
Because of Reeds disciplinary approach, you get a broad view
of biology that incorporates all the components of science, says
Rieschel. When I interviewed at Intel for my first job out of school,
it was clear that although I hadnt been in the semiconductor industry
no one in Oregon had I could get familiar with technologies
fast because of that broad foundation.
Reed also, he says, taught him how to think. The
college has a very flexible yet rigorous academic philosophy, and the
professors are outstanding. That combination gives you an incredible base
of intellectual curiosity to build on.
A defining memory: conversations over beer or Spanish coffee with the
other thesis students and Larry Ruben, now Kenan professor emeritus of
biology. The chance to let your hair down and talk with this amazingly
articulate professor and all these other bright people matured me socially
as well as intellectually, Rieschel says. Larry was very good
at being not only a faculty adviser but a friend. I came away with valuable
lessons I use now as a mentor.
Reed taught [me] how to think. The college has a very flexible yet
rigorous academic philosophy, and the professors are outstanding.
That combination gives you an incredible base of intellectual curiosity
to build on.
Rieschel managed semiconductor testing for Intel
for three-plus years, then acquired a Harvard M.B.A. (I found Harvard
very simple relative to Reed, he says.) He held executive positions
at Sequent Computer, Cisco Systems, and nCUBE before joining Softbankand
becoming something of an industry legend for his early bets on the likes
of E-Trade and Yahoo.
Not that the early days were easy; launching SBVC took long hours and
a strong stomach for risk. But Rieschel had had plenty of practice by
then at diving in and doing the job required, as Ruben puts
it. He worked his way through Reed, no small feat in itself. Halfway through
his thesis at the Oregon Regional Primate Center, he shifted gears completely.
Normally, you shift within your field so that at least the literature
youve read up to then is usable. Ruben says. In Garys
case, he took on an entirely different subject.
Rather than primates, I wound up studying the evolution of the immune
system by focusing on a little newt, Rieschel explains with a laugh.
I honestly dont recall leaving the biology building for a
couple of monthsmy friends brought me foodbut I got the work
done. It was important work, Ruben adds, demonstrating for the first
time the existence of a functional immune-related cell in tailed amphibia.
Rieschels thesis was published in 1981, and he and his adviser remain
close. Ive had a lot of favorite thesis students, Ruben
says, but Gary is one of my favorite favorites.