“Honor is a gift a man gives himself.”
– “Rob Roy,” 1995
Just before Christmas my wife bought me an expensive new camera, a 5-megapixel Canon Powershot. I fell in love with it instantly. And I was equally heartbroken when someone accidently dropped it on the tile floor in my kitchen. It looked fine, but it wouldn’t turn on. “Just take it back,” a friend urged me. (I had only had the camera for a few days.) “But that’s not honest,” I said. “Everyone else does it,” he insisted, “and, as long as they don’t ask exactly how it stopped working, you wouldn’t be lying.”
At any other time I might have actually given his advice some consideration before my Catholic Guilt talked me out of it. But I never really entertained the thought of cheating a retailer out of $439. I was too busy thinking of Eugene Kleiner and how good it felt to be honorable.
Eugene, one of the great venture capitalists, died on Nov. 20. In researching a feature story about him, the one thing that I heard over and over was that he was always honest and fair. “He was almost courtly in demeanor,” Pitch Johnson told me. “He was a very decent, honorable person.” Arthur Rock called him “one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever known.”
At a time when the papers are filled with stories of VCs being sued for allegedly ripping off entrepreneurs, cultural icons are accused of insider trading, and the mutual fund industry is being assailed for gauging small investors, we are presented with the story of a man who proved that business ethics isn’t an oxymoron. Eugene demonstrated that you can be extremely successful and maintain your integrity.
My spirit was lifted as I listened to person after person get up at his service and give testimony to Eugene. He was a role model not just for his children but for everyone who knew him. As impressive as his contributions were to Silicon Valley and the venture capital business, Eugene’s greatest gift to us all was that he made our world a better place. I never knew the man personally, but I will always remember him.