The world of venture capital and private equity investing lost a bright light when Dick Testa died suddenly on Monday night, Dec. 2, 2002. Although a quiet man, Dick touched many of our lives to our great benefit and was a major force behind the development of our profession. Dick was a true problem solver in a profession where many attorneys are problem finders, at best. Dick could listen and understand in such a way that his remedies seemed almost mundane.
Dick was my friend for 25 years and my attorney for 16 of those years. I will miss him most for his advice and friendship. As a testament to how much Dick will be missed, more than 500 people paid their respect at his funeral at St. Ann’s Church in Wayland, Mass. His longtime partner Stephen Hurwitz extolled Dick’s virtues in a eulogy, but he acknowledged that, “Dick would not like my going on and on this way.”
He was right. Dick was a self-effacing guy, and he was happier when people told him how wonderful his employees were than how wonderful he was. He always wanted the younger people to get the credit. He figured he didn’t need it, which is true.
Dick was expert at taking complex issues and stripping them down to their bare essence. It was a true gift. I’m reminded of this when I think back to my co-founding of Abbott Capital Management with Ray Held in 1986. Ray and I were concerned about being a “named fiduciary” of pension funds. Dick listened carefully, briefly explained our responsibilities and obligations and asked: “Don’t you expect to keep your nose clean?” “Of course,” we answered, and he responded: “Then that’s all there is to it.” That was Dick. He never wasted words.
His respect for others was a key factor in Dick’s success and engendered the reciprocal. Mutual respect enabled a major breakthrough with the Department of Labor (DOL) that deserves the undying gratitude of everyone involved in venture capital today. At the February 1980 DOL hearings on the Proposed Plan Asset Regulation, which threatened to block venture capital fund investing by pension funds, some very aggressive lawyers verbally attacked the DOL staff. I watched and shuddered as the bureaucrats dug in their heels. Dick snatched victory from defeat and saved the day by working closely with the DOL staff with his very comprehensive 14-page comment letter. This mutual respect produced a workable regulation that opened the floodgates to pension fund investing.
Dick was in a hurry to start his illustrious career and went directly from his junior year at Assumption Prep to Assumption College (he later had a bit of a problem when he could not produce a high school diploma). He married his childhood sweetheart, Janet, when he was 20 and graduated from Harvard Law School when he was 23. His mentor was Gen. Georges Doriot, founder of American Research and Development and widely regarded as the father of the venture capital industry.
Having achieved partnership at the law firm of Gaston and Snow in 1966, when he was 27, Dick turned entrepreneur and helped to found Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault in 1973. His success is legendary, as he built a premier firm specializing in venture capital, private equity and technology businesses. Today, the firm has grown from its three founding attorneys to a staff of 725, including 385 lawyers.
Two years ago, Dick turned over leadership of the firm to Bill Asher and a new generation of lawyers, but he remained active with the firm and with clients. Through his example and with great care, Dick created a law firm based on principals of integrity, respect for the client and excellence.
While Dick was wildly successful in business, his first love was his family. He and Janet, his wife of 43 years, had four daughters and a son, who, in turn, extended the family with no less than 14 grandchildren.
Dick was an icon in the venture capital community and will be missed by all of us who had the good fortune to have our lives touched by his. Seldom do we have the opportunity to know and work with an individual with such an intellect, sense of humor, caring nature and problem-solving talents. Thank you, Dick Testa, for sharing your short but wonderful life with us.
Stan Pratt is director of New York-based Abbot Capital Management. He also is former chairman and president of Venture Economics, former editor of Venture Capital Journal and former publisher of Pratt’s Guide to Venture Capital Sources.