Clay took a different path than Perkins

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The comments of Kleiner Perkins founder Tom Perkins have touched off a firestorm.  It certainly caught the attention of Perkins’ collaborator in the 1960s at Hewlett Packard, Roy Clay Sr.

Just after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Hewlett Packard hired Clay away from Control Data, where he had been manager of Cobol and Fortran programming, to be manager of computer research and development.  That made him the second ranking official to Tom Perkins, HP’s general manager for computers.  Clay was the first HP employee at its complex in Cupertino, now being redeveloped as Apple Computer’s headquarters.

Clay, featured in the ReUNION: Education-Arts-Heritage documentary Freedom Riders of the Cutting Edge, had made the extraordinary journey from 1951 when he graduated with a degree in mathematics from St. Louis University and was told by McDonnell Aircraft, “We have no jobs for professional Negroes.”

Clay recalls his relationship with Perkins, “He and my late wife, Virginia, sponsored a surprise birthday party for me on August 22, 1969 in Edinburgh Scotland.

He designed, built and recently sold his 900 ft boat, and his private car collection. Perkins started Silicon Valley simply by bringing venture capital to entrepreneurs, and creating the IPO. The KPCB first fund generated a return of 100 to 1. It
started when Bill Hewlett demanded that I cancel an order from Holiday Inns Hotel, and that I terminate the project that became Tandem Computers, later Compac Computer, which HP bought for $20 Billion at Perkins urging.

In 1971. Perkins left HP shortly after I did and urged me to join him at KPCB to start Tandem. Perkins showed great respect for me because of my success at HP under his domain. His letter to WSJ possibly reflects my difference with
him.”

Since 1977, Clay has operated Rod-L Electronics, a company which builds electronic test equipment.  He has insisted on manufacturing in Silicon Valley, following the HP Way that Hewlett and Packard instilled.  A long-lasting relationship with Jobs West in Menlo Park meant that dozens of residents of East Palo Alto gained an entry into the high technology industry by working in Rod-L’s factories.

It is a model which is coming into new favor as President Obama and others call for more manufacturing jobs in the United States.

More from Clay, who is working on his memoirs: “Tom Perkins is in the news which prompts me to send the folllowing notes which I am covering in my book as I talk about my life with Hewlett-Packard. We met at HP in 1966.
I saw Tom Perkins as a winner, because everything he touched became an unbelievable success, from collecting luxury automobiles to building the biggest boats. We sometimes disagreed with each other but remained respectful.
Some of the things I will always remember are: (1) Tom and Virginia hosted my 40th birthday party in Edinburgh, Scotland; a great surprise.
(2) Tom was my big supporter at HP, including recommending to Bill Hewlett that I succeed him as General Manager of the Computer Division.
(3)Tom resigned from HP, following my resignation, to form Kleiner Perkins
Caufield and Byers. He then came to me seeking assistance in forming Tandem
Computers Inc, the IPO which marked the beginning of Silicon Valley because
of its success. Tandem was a project that I initiated at HP but Bill
Hewlett demanded that I terminate.
However, HP bought the project 31 years later in the $20 Billion acquisition of COMPAQ COMPUTER CORPORATION.
(4) Tom asked me to meet with Bob Noyce of Intel to evaluate his invention of the
8080 microchip. Intel followed my recomendation to sell the chip for making
personal computers and a miriad of today’s products. Noyce died at 45 years
of age, before he would certainly received a Nobel prize in physics. Tom
asked me to meet an entrepeneur to evaluate his prototype personal computer.
I recommended that KPCB invest in what became COMPAQ COMPUTER CORPORATION.
(6) Tom invited me to a private dinner with then President Gerald Ford, at the Metropolitan Club in San Francisco.
(7) Most importantly, Tom contacted me to offer
Genentech cancer fighting drugs when he learned that Virginia had been
diagnosed with breast cancer.”

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