Kara Swisher

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Now Is the (Larry) Summers of Our Silicon Valley VC: Economic Guru Joins Andreessen Horowitz as “Special Advisor”

In an unusual appointment for the longtime public servant, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers will join Silicon Valley venture powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz as a part-time “Special Advisor.”

Summers got to know the firm with an assist from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who was a student of his when he was a professor at Harvard University.

Summers was later president of Harvard, as well as director of the White House National Economic Council in the Obama administration until late last year.

“I am doing this because I feel technology in general and information technology in particular is now having a real pervasive macroeconomic impact in our time,” said Summers in a phone interview this afternoon from his home in Boston. “Long after people have lost their memory of the dramatic financial crisis in recent years, they will remember what technology has done to transform our economy in these same years.”

Summers said he increasingly wanted to become closer to this important trend and thought he could contribute to the innovation in Silicon Valley by helping its portfolio companies better understand the global economy.

He was introduced to Andreessen Horowitz at first by Sandberg, who was also Summers’ chief of staff while at the Treasury Department, and was attracted to its investment philosophy.

“They have distinctive elements of strategy that seemed to be a good fit, such as their emphasis on market disruption,” said Summers. “They also have an audacity of the vision and were really supporting transformation.”

Summers said he would serve as an advisor to Andreessen Horowitz companies, focusing on global opportunities they should take advantage of.

He will not become a VC, though. “My life to date has been as a professor and public servant, so I am not in a position to be a major investor,” said Summers.

That said, Marc Andreessen quickly noted in the interview that “if Larry brings in a company, we are going to take a serious look at it.”

While he was not a partner, Andreessen said Summers’ compensation would be linked to the long-term performance of the firm.

Summers will travel between Massachusetts and the West coast, but will also continue to work on outside projects.

What he will not be doing is giving any long-winded economic lessons to entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

“I am not sure there is the attention span for some of my lectures out there,” he joked.

Here is Andreessen’s blog post about the Summers appointment:

Meet Larry Summers, Our New Special Advisor

By Marc Andreessen

Today I’m delighted to announce that economist and former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers is joining our team as a part-time Special Advisor.

A lot of people already know who Larry is, but here are the highlights of a remarkable career to date:

* Admitted to MIT at age 16, originally to study physics — clearly our kind of nerd.

* Became tenured professor of economics at Harvard at age 28, where he first started mentoring a young undergraduate named Sheryl Sandberg, who ultimately became his chief of staff at the US Treasury.

* Received John Bates Clark Medal for his research at age 38, one of the two most prestigious awards in the field of economics (the other is the Nobel).

* On the staff of President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors in 1982-1983. (For those of you too young to remember, Reagan was a noted Republican.)

* Undersecretary for International Affairs and then Deputy Treasury Secretary for President Clinton between 1993 and 1999. Intimately involved in resolving major macroeconomic crises in Mexico, Russia, and elsewhere. Became US Treasury Secretary in 1999.

* President of Harvard from 2001 to 2006.

* Until late 2010, served as President Obama’s director of the White House National Economic Council.

* And, most importantly, a pivotal character in the recent movie “The Social Network”.

Larry will be an advisor to our firm and our entrepreneurs on several topics:

First, as technology continues its relentless colonization of broad swaths of the global economy, Larry will help us understand the scope and nature of the opportunities in front of us and our industry.

Second, many of our companies are seeking to restructure and revolutionize various markets — such as telecommunications, advertising, entertainment, education, health care, and financial services — and Larry will help us and our entrepreneurs analyze and understand the economics and dynamics of those markets.

Third, Larry’s deep insight into global economics and geopolitics will be highly useful to our companies that intend to expand globally — which is to say, all of them.

According to the New York Times, “Years ago, Henry Kissinger suggested that Mr. Summers be given a White House post in which he was charged with shooting down or fixing bad ideas.” We can’t arrange that, but we are excited to have him on our team, both to do that and to contribute lots of new ideas to us and to our companies.


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