An Opportunity For A Couple of Smart Women Out There

Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, May 16, 2016

I love smart women. I married two of them, the last one (and it has been made very clear to me that last means last) is Barbara Bry.

She is currently embarking on a political adventure, and I will not address that here. But one of her life stories is about her mother, who had a great job and a very good income, but could not buy a house as a single woman without a man co-signing on the mortgage. This was not in 1887; this was in 1963.

I recently read a long piece in the Wall Street Journal about Chamath Palihapitiya. He is the managing partner of a venture capital fund in Silicon Valley, Social Capital, and he is the fierce, outspoken and in-your-face poster child for “diversity” – asking where are the women in venture?

He ranked 71 venture firms by gender and ethnic makeup, and the results are not surprising. The Sri Lankan immigrant says, “I don’t understand why less than 8 percent of all investors at venture capital firms are women. Women make completely different investment decisions than men.” (And I suspect that the women make better ones, but that is not yet proven. Just my conjecture.)

Try this one – in 2015, women in financial services (Wall Street) composed 54 percent of the workforce, but only 16 percent were senior executives and 0 percent were CEOs. And in corporate America, there are 22 female CEOs in the Fortune 500. That means 478 are men (just being helpful with the math).

The subject of “women” in leadership roles is about to get even more real when Hillary Clinton secures the Democratic nomination for the presidency. There will be a lot of gender discussion (possible first woman president). I don’t do politics – neither for Barbara nor Hillary – but hey, we can certainly applaud Harriet Tubman, soon to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, relegating Old Hickory to the backside of the bus. Slang for the $20 bill was a “Jackson” – now is it going to be a “Tubman?” Imagine, an African-American abolitionist and suffragette on good old American money.

Look, women are terrific. But when they stumble, we dance on their graves. Elizabeth Holmes at Theranos has a disaster on her hands, and Carly Fiorina was crushed at HP (never bet against the macro). Next out the door?  Marissa Mayer at Yahoo. This smart woman thing is not as easy as it appears. I am executive chairman at a hot biotech – the four key scientists are all women – and all have Ph.D.s.

So here is my dilemma. My pals and I are going to do a reality investing show, maybe on television, but certainly online, and it is called “VCs in a Van.” It is sort of an “accelerator with an accelerator.”

We drive around, visit companies, discuss deals, make some investments in local companies and maybe tell a few funny stories (with all due respect to Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”). I won’t bore you with all the twists and spins (it has some crowdfunding stuff in it), but there are five main characters. Three of them are old, white guys (I can’t help it), and two are women.

I am looking for those two women. Can you help me? The only requirement is they have to either have been a CEO, a co-founder of a company or have some street cred as an investor in deals.

I spent 10 years in the wasteland of Hollywood when I was younger and dumber, so I know there are lots of “actors” who can play this role, but we want the real deal. We want someone with the scars and the chutzpah to join that 8 percent, so that we can move the needle up the scale. The theme is local companies – from Los Angeles to San Diego.

There is no rule ending this column – simply a deep appreciation for smart, powerful, creative women and an equal recognition that it is not easy – they have to do it better than men and backwards and in high heels.

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