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 Spring 2003UVA Lawyer - Home
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A Lawyer's Intensity Drives a Business Vision
John Glynn '65: Joy in the Making

"Law and business are different, but they're also complementary and the combination of the skill set of the two is better than either separately."

By Cullen Couch

The smoking wreckage of the dot-com boom still smolders, and the brash twenty-something, overnight gazillionaires now work a day job. As the hyperbole that inflated the internet phenomenon loses gas, it is easy to think that the bubble was only about money, hubris, and greed. And for many, it was. But for the real pros, the Silicon Valley venture capitalists who for decades have helped fuel technological innovations that have transformed mankind and our society, the boom only served to obscure the vision of the real companies that continue to create tomorrow's new products and new markets.

John Glynn is a 32-year venture capital veteran of the Silicon Valley world. His office at 3000 Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, California, scarcely reflects the undercurrent of effort it takes to impact a portfolio of some 20 early stage companies that Glynn's firm currently manages. A soft-spoken, refreshingly modest man with a knack for judging talent and markets, he has helped bring to market such giants as Intel, Sun Microsystems, and Silicon Graphics. Integrating the intellectual rigor of his Law School education with the analytical framework he developed earning his MBA at Stanford University put Glynn right where he loves to be: at the creation stage of a new business that could become a major factor in its industry.

"I like to be on the leading edge of what's going on," he says. "I like people who are thinking about innovation, about what's new, about how to build a successful company with long-term intrinsic value. I like the challenge of creating a culture that attracts good people and keeps them. Being early in the lifecycle of a successful, rapidly growing company certainly requires some luck, but also some vision and some great execution. I like that combination."

Glynn says that investing early in the lifecycle of a new business is of course risky, and necessarily yields great financial reward when successful. But his real reward is in seeing one of his companies become a leader in an exciting new or growing industry.

"When our companies go public, that's a moment of real joy," he says. "I take pride in being associated with companies run by people who are trying to build real businesses. I measure myself by my success in helping launch companies that I think have a chance of having a major long term impact on society. Making money is a byproduct of accomplishing that objective."

A Love of Law; A Life in Business

When Glynn graduated from the Law School in 1965, he landed a good job with McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen in San Francisco. He had the skills of a young attorney, and quickly learned to draft the documents that defined the transactions of his firm's corporate clients. But he felt uncomfortable sitting on the sidelines of the deals his clients were negotiating.

"I was involved in some merger and acquisition deals where I just sat in a room and took notes," says Glynn. "I didn't have much to say because I didn't have a lot to offer. I was more an observer of the negotiation than a player or a real resource the client could tap."

"I loved law school and the study of law," he adds. "But as I gained experience I found that my skills, my interests, the things that I really wanted to commit myself to in the professional sense, were on the business side of the table and I could not get there with just the traditional law degree."

"No matter how grim the situation in the world, you feel very good when you spend a couple of hours in class twice a week with bright, young people who ask terrific questions and who have dreams and values that excite you. It has given me even more hope and confidence for the future of our country."

To reach his goals, Glynn knew he had to add a business framework to his legal training. He decided to leave the firm and attend the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He earned his MBA there in 1970 and went to work for a venture capital firm and then, in 1974, started his own venture capital business. At that time, the Dow Jones average was about 575, the country had just gone through the worst bear market since the Depression, and people were standing in line at gas stations to get rationed fuel. Economists feared a worldwide breakdown of banking and financial systems.

"It was a scary time," Glynn recalls. "But I was young and frankly, I didn't have a lot to lose. I knew I could get a job somewhere else if it didn't work out, so I figured I would give it a shot. The first few years were a struggle. It was a great time to invest, but it was very difficult to raise money. But finally, we built up our asset base to a point where we could cover our operating expenses and be a player in the entrepreneurial world."

Bringing Business into Law School

Glynn credits his success in backing some great companies early to the combined skill sets that both law and business training gave him. "Law and business are different," he says, "but they're also complementary and the combination of the skill set of the two is better than either separately."

Further, he believes that the job of today's attorney has expanded beyond just preparing the paperwork reflecting a business transaction. It requires cumulative experience and judgment to help the business person think through and understand the reality of the transaction that they are proposing. That's why he strongly supports the new Law & Business Program at the Law School.

"I think our profession today could use a little revitalization," he says. "Our Law & Business Program can give our young people the tools and an analytical framework that will make them better lawyers and more effective with their clients—as advisors, as sounding boards, and as partners—than their predecessors ever had a chance of doing. In fact, I wish I had some fundamental training in business disciplines when I was a Law School student. I went out in the business world and found that there was a whole dimension to working effectively with executives on business transactions that I wasn't very well prepared for."

Understanding business issues and the analytical framework for handling them will help the attorney become an integral part of thinking through and structuring transactions, instead of simply defining in documents a business transaction as handed down by business executives. "That's been our traditional role," says Glynn. "Now, I think we've got to be able to step further upstream and be involved in the vision and the creation and the definition of that business transaction to be a more effective advisor to our clients."

Glynn sees the Law & Business Program as an excellent alternative to the four-year Joint Law/MBA program. Though an outstanding program, the joint JD/MBA is not for everyone. "It's four years of a young person's life and not every student is prepared to give up that time or incur the costs to finance that education. Our Law & Business Program is another way to provide a fair amount of the content and the fundamental understanding of business issues, but in a fashion that can be integrated into our traditional three-year law program."

According to Glynn, the Law & Business Program will take time to validate itself, and the Law School will have to set reasonable objectives and measure progress and accomplishment over a period of time, adapting the program to the feedback it receives from students, faculty, and employers.

But Glynn is certain that the Law & Business Program will succeed. "We have an excellent law school, one of the best in the country. We've got resources to back up our teaching, and we're clear in our vision as a first class provider of a legal education. Now, we're taking on a little more risk. We are in waters that we don't completely understand and we don't have decades of history to rely on. It is clear that we need to be willing to take some risk with our Law & Business Program. The acceptance of the point that 'Failure is O.K.' is a fundamental tenet behind the success of the Silicon Valley. We need to focus our talents to deliver value in our Law & Business course offerings that will make a difference over time to our students and their employers."

A Time to Give Back

A passionate supporter of higher education, Glynn has been a generous contributor to the Law School Foundation, serves as a Trustee and Chairman of the Investment Committee, and is a member of the Law School's Business Advisory Council. For over a decade, he has taught a course on Venture Capital and the Entrepreneurial World at both Stanford and Darden, and has also been a Visiting Lecturer at Cambridge University. He teaches for two reasons. One, it's a way to share some of his experience with those who will follow, and two, is the energy he derives from spending time with young people on the threshold of their professional lives.

"I reached a point in my professional career where I wanted to give back something to younger people; share my knowledge and my experience," he says. "I found that teaching is a wonderful way to do that, and is a very energizing and personally rewarding experience. No matter how grim the situation in the world, you feel very good when you spend a couple of hours in class twice a week with bright, young people who ask terrific questions and who have dreams and values that excite you. It has given me even more hope and confidence for the future of our country."

Leaning back in his chair and gazing out on the sun-dappled landscape outside his corner office, Glynn is the picture of contentment. While many of his contemporaries have retired, Glynn soldiers on with a zeal borne out of a true passion for his work. Working hard at managing his venture capital portfolio, teaching graduate business school courses on both coasts, and actively engaging in philanthropic work, Glynn's calm demeanor belies the engine driving him within. It's an engine fueled by pure belief in the value of what he does and its potential to positively impact others.

"When they write the history of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries of America, the Silicon Valley will be one of the great positive phenomena in that story. Its impact on mankind, the level and pace of its technical innovation, the vision that people have, the acceptance that failure is okay and you can pick yourself up and start all over again and be successful the next time … that's a culture that I'm glad I had a chance in my lifetime to be exposed to. It has been an incredible experience for me and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to participate."

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