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Newt Header How Gary Rieschel ’79 journeyed from biology student to top-ranking venture capitalist
-Kate Hobbie
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 widely—philosophy, anthropology, history of science. For his senior thesis, he packed a year’s worth of work into a mere four months. Twenty-plus years later, he’s not lecturing in a university or conducting research for a biotech firm; he’s 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 Valley–based 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 Reed’s 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 Reed’s 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 hadn’t 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.
-Gary Rieschel

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 Softbank—and 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 you’ve read up to then is usable.” Ruben says. “In Gary’s 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 don’t recall leaving the biology building for a couple of months—my friends brought me food—but 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. Rieschel’s thesis was published in 1981, and he and his adviser remain close. “I’ve had a lot of favorite thesis students,” Ruben says, “but Gary is one of my favorite favorites.”

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2001