So what exactly is former secretary of State Colin Powell going to be doing for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Menlo Park, California, venture capital firm that hired him last month as a strategic limited partner? With immensely lucrative past investments, including Amazon.com, Google and Netscape, Kleiner doesn't need credibility or capital, the usual reasons a venture capital firm would have to hire a celebrity partner. And Kleiner's stated explanation -- that Powell will offer "global strategic insights and wisdom about leadership to entrepreneurs" -- left many industry sages scratching their heads. Powell himself is mum on the details.
One popular theory is that the 68-year-old retired four-star general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will help Kleiner diversify its investments into defense and security. But that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. "There are people you could hire who are a lot cheaper, with a lot more on-the-ground knowledge of how to manage the Byzantine architecture of government defense appropriations," says Jesse Reyes, a veteran private equity consultant. "Hiring Colin Powell doesn't have any obvious benefits to Kleiner Perkins other than marketing."
The answer may be that simple. Hiring Powell part-time -- he's to meet with Kleiner partners only a few times a year -- is a low-risk way for Kleiner to polish its already sterling reputation. Or as one industry professional puts it: "Powell is gold-plated. Just being affiliated with him is a good thing.