Tom Perkins: The Captain Of Capitalism

Tells 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl He Regrets Quitting HP's Board

This story was originally broadcast on Nov. 4, 2007. It was updated on May 30, 2008.

If there were a hall of fame for business tycoons, Tom Perkins would be a first ballot shoo-in. His hands-on engineering skills, combined with his nose for profit, made him the captain of venture capitalism and helped transform Silicon Valley into the money machine of the West. The firm he co-founded, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, provided start-up capital for companies like AOL, Amazon.com, Netscape, and Google; the list goes on and on.

As correspondent Lesley Stahl first reported last year, he has also been at the center of some corporate boardroom battles at Hewlett-Packard that led to the ouster of one of the most powerful women in business: then-CEO Carly Fiorina. And in 2006 he triggered a confrontation that then brought to light how HP was spying on its own board members and journalists.

By all accounts, Perkins is brilliant, willful and wealthy, lacking in nothing but perhaps a tad of humility.



Tom Perkins has his own personal mega-yacht, "The Maltese Falcon." She's the world's largest privately-owned sailboat, what one magazine called a "big boatload of ego."

"Somebody has to have it, right?" Perkins says, laughing. "Why not me?"

When Stahl first saw the boat, it was moored off the coast of Italy. The Falcon is also a technological breakthrough. The masts stand 192-feet tall, weigh 25 tons each, and are made of carbon fiber.

"The B-1 bomber's made out of carbon fiber," Perkins explains. "Except for the American Air Force, I purchased the most carbon fiber of anybody ever."

On board, the boat is no less spectacular. On a scale of 1 to 10, the boat is a 12.

"It's your typical football field size yacht, you know," Perkins jokes.

Inside, there are two 1,800-horsepower engines, 11,000 square feet of living space, and his crew of 20 includes a gourmet chef and a team of stewards and stewardesses.

The wheel house-or "captain's bridge"-is command central for the boat's technological wizardry.

Perkins designed the software himself for the computers that make sailing on the Falcon as easy as playing a computer game. You know the wheel a skipper uses to steer a boat? The Falcon's wheel is much smaller than that.

A knob turns the masts, so that the wind blows into the sails at the perfect angle.

Perkins also showed Stahl how to unfurl the boat's 15 sails, a job that would take about 80 deckhands an hour on a traditional sailboat. All it takes on the Falcon is five minutes, and the touch of a screen.

And just like that the sails housed inside hollow, carbon fiber masts began to unfurl-all 26,000 square feet of them. That's over half an acre's worth of sail.

  • CBSNews

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