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A Tech Veteran's Search For Green Fields
Ben Rosen has had several careers—technology analyst, early venture capitalist, entrepreneur—any one of which would have made him notable.
Marty Schenker

A New Orleans native educated at the California Institute of Technology, Stanford, and Columbia Business School, Rosen introduced Steve Jobs to Morgan Stanley and financed Compaq Computer, Lotus Software, and Electronic Arts. With his older brother, Harold, Rosen co-founded in 1992 an electric car company that employed J.B. Straubel—long before Straubel helped start Tesla Inc. In an interview at his home in Kent, Conn., Rosen, 86, looks back over his pathbreaking career and describes what excites him today. Here are some highlights.

MARTY SCHENKER: You were there at the crossroads of some historic developments.

BEN ROSEN: The timing was fortunate. I just happened to cross paths with some people who were really important in our lives. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates when they were 22 years old. And then Gordon Moore. He was my teaching assistant—when I was a freshman at Caltech, he was a first-year graduate student. So I’ve known him since 1950, and we stayed in touch. Later, Compaq was Intel’s No. 1 customer. The inventor of the spreadsheet, Dan Bricklin, and his associate Bob Frankston, I knew. They showed it to me in the beginning. And Mitch Kapor, who took it to the next step. Bob Noyce and Jack Kilby, who invented the integrated circuit. Kilby got the Nobel. Bob didn’t get it—only because he was dead.

MS: And Morgan Stanley’s position as an underwriter of technology company initial public offerings [IPOs] started with your introductions.

BR: First was the Apple IPO [in 1980]. They’d done one [ technology IPO] many years ago, decades earlier. I don’t even remember the name of it. They apparently lost their shirts on it. They were embarrassed. It violated their rules, which was to be the banker for the No. 1 or No. 2 major companies in the major industries. They took a chance on this company. It was a disaster, so they decided no more technology.

MS: But then you introduced Steve Jobs?

BR: To Bob Baldwin. And it was funny to watch them. This was at a small trade show at the Hilton a few blocks from Morgan Stanley. And Steve knew nothing about the financial world, and Bob [who led Morgan Stanley from 1973 to 1983] knew less about technology. And the two of them were each trying to sell themselves. Neither heard the other or understood what they were saying. But anyway, they [Morgan Stanley] became a big technology underwriter. I had just left Morgan Stanley, and I was a one-year consultant before I moved out altogether.

MS: You could have been an early investor in Apple?

BR: Mike Markkula, who is the original investor in Intel—he bought a third of the company in 1976, I believe, for $91,000—one might call it really good venture investing. I knew him when I was an analyst. I used to see him at Intel. And he met Steve at a home-brew computer club in 1975. We were good friends, and he offered me $1 million of Apple stock at the time. I thought that somehow this was a conflict, even though Apple was a private company. I was an analyst. I was never on the banking side.

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October - November 2019