Silicon Valley Pioneer Eugene Kleiner Dies At 80

He helped make Fairchild Semiconductor into one of Silicon Valley's seminal companies and later helped build a pioneering VC firm.
When Eugene Kleiner and seven other scientists and engineers left Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory to start Fairchild Semiconductor in 1958, William Shockley said the departures would have "no real effect on the Shockley lab." Shockley eventually had to eat his words, as Kleiner and the others forged ahead to virtually build Silicon Valley while Shockley's business faded away.

Kleiner has died, his family announced this week. Kleiner helped make Fairchild Semiconductor into the seminal company of Silicon Valley, spinning off companies like Intel and National Semiconductor, which then spun off their own offspring. Along the way, Kleiner helped in another way--by founding one of the nation's pioneering venture-capital firms, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. The VC firm has staked many successful companies including, Compaq, Sun Microsystems, and Tandem Computers.

An Austrian immigrant who came to the United States before World War II, Kleiner settled in California and went to work for the brilliant but mercurial Shockley, who had won a Nobel Prize for his work in semiconductors. Kleiner and his seven partners--who Shockley called "the traitorous eight"--left the Shockley facilities in Mountain View, Calif., to establish the Fairchild Semiconductor Co. in Palo Alto. Kleiner's partners included Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, who would later gain fame as founders of Intel. Kleiner helped finance Intel through his venture-capital firm.

Shockley, a native of Palo Alto, was working at Bell Labs in New Jersey, when he recruited Kleiner and some other scientists and engineers to work for Shockley Semiconductor. Shockley returned to California after his business plan was rebuffed by Raytheon.

Out on their own, the entrepreneurs chipped in $3,500 each and proceeded to manufacture multiple transistors on a single chip. Fairchild invested $1.5 million in Fairchild Semiconductor, and within a few months, the company was operating in the black.

Kleiner later teamed with Noyce and Moore to help launch Intel. By the mid-1970s, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers was investing furiously in a portfolio of startup companies that would eventually number more than 300. He retired from active involvement in the VC firm in the mid-1980s, but was listed as a partner emeritus in the firm until his death.

Kleiner is survived by two children and four grandchildren. His wife died two years ago.