Solitary as a Rock –

Arthur Rock is a key member of the Old Guard, but he stands as a lone wolf in a business defined by ever-larger partnerships. And yet he is deeply connected to many firms that still stand today.

It was Rock-along with partner Tommy Davis-who set up one of the first West Coast VC funds in 1961. That $5 million fund, called Davis & Rock, is legendary. It made 10 investments, at least three of which were huge winners: Astrodata, Scientific Data Systems (SDS) and Teledyne (NYSE: TDY). SDS may be the most famous: Rock put less than $300,000 into the company, which was later sold to Xerox for $100 million.

After Davis parted with Rock and went on to start Mayfield, Dick Kramlich, who later founded New Enterprise Associates (NEA), joined Rock.

Rock’s second fund-all of $6.25 million-proved two things. First, that the oldest of the Old Guard would help spawn some of the VC industry’s largest and most significant VC firms of the future. And second, that tough times are nothing new to venture capitalists. In the midst of a deep recession, Rock and Kramlich were able to return seven times their investors’ money. As VCs suffer through today’s economic downturn, they should be inspired to know that no matter how bad things get, smart investing will always yield great returns and great companies.