Ray Lane’s having a bad week.
First there was the board shakeup with Lane stepping down as Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ)’s chairman. Then came news that Fisker Automotive Inc., the luxury plug-in automaker, where he’s a board member and major investor, is eliminating as much as 75 percent of its staff.
The back-to-back bombshells reflect a fall from grace for a technology industry veteran, who spent eight years near the top of Oracle Corp. (ORCL) before turning to venture capital and helping Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers start its alternative energy practice. Lane’s star dimmed during a tenure at Hewlett-Packard that was marked by strategy shifts, management turmoil, a plunging stock price and acquisitions gone wrong. As a director at Fisker, he was unable to duplicate the success of Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA)
“It’s been a bad week, no question,” said Sam Hamadeh, chief executive officer of PrivCo, a New York-based firm that tracks private companies and venture firms.
Lane, 66, resigned as chairman of Hewlett-Packard April 4, although he will remain on the board. Two other directors, G. Kennedy Thompson and John Hammergren, resigned, two weeks after investors re-elected them in a narrow majority of votes. During his 2 1/2 years, he presided over the firing of Leo Apotheker as CEO and the acquisition and $8.8 billion writedown of software maker Autonomy Corp.
When Lane came to Hewlett-Packard, he was seen as the voice of experience necessary to bring stability after the resignation of Mark Hurd. The board had pushed Hurd out, saying the former CEO violated the company’s standards of business conduct.
Instead, Hurd’s exit and Lane’s arrival kicked off a period of management upheaval and strategy shifts that included the troubled 11-month tenure of Apotheker, who was handpicked by Lane.
Lane’s public gaffes included being photographed using an Apple Inc. (AAPL) computer and telling Hewlett-Packard employees that he was ready to “take Meg’s training wheels off” after she became CEO, according to an article in Fortune.
Hewlett-Packard’s share price declined 50 percent during Lane’s tenure. Lane didn’t respond to requests via telephone and e-mail for comment.
At Kleiner Perkins, the Menlo Park, California-based venture firm that made fortunes from Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc., Lane was a central part of the team that started betting heavily on clean technology during the last decade. Lane joined the firm in 2000 after leaving Oracle.
Hailed as one of the pioneer’s of the nascent electric-car industry, Fisker raised at least $1.2 billion, with Kleiner Perkins among its principal investors.
Fisker, based in Anaheim, California, said yesterday that it’s firing three-quarters of its 200 employees after failing to secure a deal with an automotive partner. Fisker has struggled since halting assembly of rechargeable Karma sedans last year when the supplier of the car’s lithium-ion batteries, the former A123 Systems Inc., filed for bankruptcy.
Fisker is just the latest clean-tech blowup for Kleiner. The firm was a major backer of solar-panel maker Miasole Inc., which was sold to a Chinese company last year. Lane is not among the 10 managing members of the latest $525 million fund, raised last year, and is listed on Kleiner Perkins’ website as a partner emeritus.
“Kleiner as a firm has badly underperformed a lot of other VC firms,” Hamadeh said.
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