By Bob Johnston
February 8, 2022

Ken Goldman – On the Tech Industry, Board Roles/Lessons, and Running Eric & Wendy Schmidt’s Family Office

My second guest of the new season is Ken Goldman, who currently serves as President of Hillspire, which is Eric and Wendy Schmidt’s family office (Eric, of course, being the former executive chairman of Google and its parent company, Alphabet). Ken is widely known in Silicon Valley and the broader business world, having served as CFO of Yahoo, Fortinet, Siebel, and currently sits on a number of corporate, startup and non-profit boards.

Ken and I cover his high school days in Peabody, Mass. – where only 25% of his graduating class went to college, yet he managed his way to Cornell through grit and a competitive spirit – to his time at Cornell and Harvard Business School, and why he chose the technology industry as a career path at a time when it was an outlier. We also discuss why picking the right place to work when first starting out can make a huge difference (and the advice he gave his kids on this front).

Ken also provides his views on why Silicon Valley is still a meritocracy (hint: there’s a lot of money around for the right ideas) and industries where he feels entrepreneurs should consider creating new companies, such as the political arena. As a longtime observer of the political sector, I agree completely. Of note, there are nearly 100 “decacorns” roaming around – unicorns with over $10Bn in value – and this number is growing every quarter. As such, Ken discusses his own investment philosophy as an angel investor as well as the focus at Hillspire, ranging from environment to human rights to non-profits.

Finally, Ken and I dig into the notion of ethical businesses (and the importance of transparency with your boards), the non-profits that he’s involved in…what’s on his browser (fun fact: he’s a big weather buff)...and more.

PS: You’ll notice a trend with Ken and the conversation with my first guest of the season a few weeks ago, Mark Hawkins – both Ken and Mark have developed a widely respected personal and business ethos and have imbued this ethos in their teams, industry peers, and startups in which they invest. Dissecting this ethos is an overarching theme in both podcasts. Ken and Mark are leaders to whom other leaders look up. Lots of great learnings!

Ken’s Bio

Ken Goldman is the current president of Hillspire, a family office responsible for financial and administrative functions, along with real estate, aviation and maritime activities.

Goldman is the former chief financial officer of Yahoo. He joined Yahoo in 2012 and throughout his five-year tenure was responsible for Yahoo’s global finance functions, including financial planning and analysis, controllership, tax, treasury and investor relations.

Prior to joining Yahoo, Goldman served as senior vice president, finance and administration, and chief financial officer at Fortinet, a provider of unified threat-management solutions, from 2007 to 2012. Goldman also served as senior vice president, finance and administration, and chief financial officer of Siebel Systems.

During a professional career spanning more than 40 years, Goldman served as chief financial officer of multiple public and private companies and helped take three companies public. In addition, Goldman’s experience includes board director, audit committee chairman and financial advisory roles at more than 40 corporate boards, of which over 10 have gone public while he was a board member.

Goldman currently serves on the board of directors of NXP Semiconductor, TriNet, RingCentral, Zuora, GoPro and the SASB Foundation; other, nonprofit boards include Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Foundation Board and the RFK Human Rights Board.

Goldman was a member of the board of trustees of Cornell University from 2005 to 2013 and was subsequently designated as Emeritus Trustee; he is currently on the Harvard Business School California Research Center Advisory Board.

Goldman was appointed in January 2015 to a three-year term to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s standing advisory group, an organization that provides advice on the need to formulate new accounting standards or change existing standards. He was a member of the Treasury Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession over the years 2007 and 2008, a public committee that made recommendations to encourage a more sustainable auditing profession. From December 1999 to December 2003, Goldman served on the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council. In 2017 the Jewish Heritage Commission of the United States presented the King David Award to Goldman for his contributions to American society and Jewish heritage as a leader of exceptional impact.

Goldman holds a BS in electrical engineering from Cornell University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. In his spare time, Goldman enjoys skiing, windsurfing and kiteboarding and golf and resides in Atherton, California.

The only thing you have in life is reputation
On walking the talk in all areas of life
Do the right thing when nobody is watching you
On discipline and being ethical

Episode Markers

00:07:11 - Bob and Ken discuss Ken's background and hone in on Ken's decision to do what was then seen as unconventional – move to Silicon Valley – following his studies at Cornell and Harvard Business School; Ken's only possession was an old car and his 'network' consisted of only one contact on the west. coast.

00: 17:33 - Bob and Ken talk about the importance of geography and "following the action" when it comes to career path.

00:24:21 - The conversation pivots to a discussion of loyalty and how Ken assesses loyalty, commitment, and accomplishment in new hires.

00:26:20 - Ken talks about his upbringing, as the son of a GE mechanical engineer and a homemaker. Growing up in the blue collar town of Peabody, MA and attending a high school where only 25% of students went to college, Ken had a competitive spirit that drove him to excel in school.

00:32:47 - Ken and Bob discuss Silicon Valley and whether it's still a meritocracy? Is it as easy now – as it was a few decades ago – to hang a shingle with merely a great product or great idea, and raise money to start your business? Or, is it more difficult for early stage founders to launch a business?

00:38:07 - Ken talks about his philosophy on investing, on relying on trusted networks, finding the best metrics, and getting  value for your investments.

00:41:47 - What kinds of challenges does Ken see as someone who sits on multiple boards, i.e. that every company and board are different. Ken also shares his perspective on the importance of diversity in boards.

00:46:40 - Bob asks Ken his opinion on what seems to be a shift in the ethical and cultural perspectives of businesses. Ken discusses the interaction between boards and CEOs and how to handle sticky situations. Ken brings up the importance of reputation, which is ultimately the only thing you have in life that stays with you.

00:53:34 - Ken talks about the non-profit organizations in which he's involved.

00:58:17 - Bob asks Ken to share some contrarian views that he holds.

01:01:13 - What's on Ken's browser?