Tom Perkins: The Captain Of Capitalism

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

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And it took somebody like Perkins, with a background in science, to figure it out. He got an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School. And yet, he says only two out of about every ten of his projects resulted in a homerun.

"When you think about putting as much money as you have to into these projects, you'd think you'd get an ulcer or you'd burn out early," Stahl remarks.

"I remember one of our investors said, 'Tom, how do you live with this?' And I said, 'Well, Henry, it's your money,'" Perkins says, laughing.

Perkins is now a partner emeritus at the firm he founded 35 years ago. He seemed about ready to sail off into the sunset when suddenly two years ago, at age 74, his life, and legacy, took a controversial turn. As a member of Hewlett-Packard's board of directors, he played a role in the 2005 sacking of Carly Fiorina, the computer giant's CEO, and a year later the ouster of its chairman of the board, Pattie Dunn. Last October, they both went public on 60 Minutes and, in separate interviews, accused him of engineering their dismissals.

"Is it possible that part of the problem was that you just couldn't accept that there were women in control here? Now, it's a serious question," Stahl asks.

"I realize it's a serious question. And I also realize that I'm gonna be accused of 'He hates women and he fires them or he can't stand them.' Or whatever," Perkins says.

"Not hates women, but just can't stand that they're in control, that they're in charge. That kind of thing," Stahl remarks.

"I just don't think that's true at all. I mean, up until Carly, all those few that I've had to fire have been men," Perkins says.

He denies he engineered Fiorina's firing, but he acknowledges he engaged in a test of wills with board chairman Pattie Dunn. At a crucial meeting, Perkins got so mad at her that he resigned from the board, losing his legendary temper.

"Just slammed your briefcase cover and walked out. I mean, that sounds like a hissy fit of some kind," Stahl points out.

"I was angry," Perkins admits. "There's no question."

"So, you respond, it was like a little mini-tantrum in a way," Stahl asks.

"But it was 90 minutes of very intense debate. I would say I was emotional more than angry although that's maybe the same thing," Perkins says.

After he resigned, by his own admission, he waged a behind-the-scenes campaign to get Dunn removed as chairman of the board. Dunn calls it "a vendetta" to tarnish her reputation.

"If you have enough money and you're willing to spend enough, you can buy and sell somebody's reputation," Dunn told Stahl.

Asked if she was charging that that's what Perkins had done, Dunn said, "That is what he did."

But Perkins says he doesn't hate Dunn. "We disagreed profoundly with the direction she was pulling Hewlett-Packard in," he says.

"You told someone I know, 'I can't stand to breathe the same air she breathes.' You know? And that sounds like you really hate her," Stahl remarks.

"I don't recall saying that," Perkins says.

When Perkins resigned from the HP board, he ended a long association with the company.

Asked if he misses being on the board, Perkins says, "Yes, I miss being on the HP board. Maybe I made a mistake in resigning as I did."

And he says he regrets it.