About a Founder, For Founders, From a Founder 16

Pat McGovern pictured in the front row center with the IDG team

Pat McGovern pictured in the front row center with the IDG team

Pat McGovern, founder and chairman of IDG, passed away last Thursday at the age of 76. Much has already been written about his remarkable accomplishments as a businessman and philanthropist. Instead of adding to that outpouring, I want to write a few words about my personal experience with Pat.

To say that I knew Pat McGovern well would be an overstatement. My partner, Pat Kenealy, and my China colleagues, Quan Zhou and Hugo Shong, knew him substantially better. But I was fortunate to know McGovern for 15 years, starting in the late 1990s, when he and other IDG Ventures partners were kind enough to invite me to join IDG Ventures. In a youthful mistake, I declined initially but eventually made the right decision by co-founding our current firm, IDG Ventures USA, in 2007, with strategic backing from IDG.

Over the past seven years, I interacted with Pat McGovern every couple of months, as he reviewed the performance of our fund, helped with introductions to various parts of IDG, reached out to multiple founders on our behalf, and committed increasing amounts of capital to our funds. Before too much time passes and I forget, I want to write down the distinguishing characteristics of Pat’s personality, which I believe hold important lessons for all of us, and particularly to anyone who is a founder of his/her own firm.

1. Personal attention. For many years, Pat delivered personally-signed holiday cards to every employee and even to us at IDG Ventures, even though we are not IDG employees but part of the extended IDG family.

2. Responsiveness. Pat replied to every e-mail and phone call from me, typically in under 24 hours. I may not have always liked the response, but I always got one.

3. Professionalism. I never heard Pat raise his voice. He wore a coat and tie to every meeting. In Silicon Valley, we may see this as old-fashioned, but when someone shows up to a meeting on a Saturday morning in a coat and tie when he could be wearing a bathrobe and slippers, you feel he is taking the meeting seriously, you feel respected, and you cannot help but raise your own game.

4. Family. I was always struck by Pat’s remarkable interactions with his wife, Lore Harp McGovern, herself an accomplished entrepreneur. She joined us on many occasions, including IDG Ventures’ annual meetings, and her contributions were always valuable and unique from Pat’s. Pat treated Lore with a combination of tenderness and respect that I rarely see in couples.

5. Frugality. Pat traveled economy class frequently, though fortunately not on international flights. Despite a personal fortune estimated in the billions, he lived in a nice but relatively modest house, eschewing any potential trappings of excessive wealth like planes, boats, chauffeurs, etc.

6. Attention to numbers. As a true MIT grad, Pat focused on the underlying data and knew detailed revenue and profitability figures for every business unit and in our case, the returns on each one of our portfolio companies.

7. Boundless energy. Until his last months, Pat traveled extensively throughout the US and China. I distinctly recall walking with him to our hotel from the annual IDG Top Leadership dinner in Boston in the middle of December. Despite the frigid temperatures, he dismissed the idea of taking a taxi and preferred to walk. I have a small suspicion this was due in part to his desire to not spend money.

8. Business on a handshake. Our last substantial business interaction was at the end of 2013. My partners and I talked to Pat about our next fund; we wanted to know how much money IDG was going to invest. We met at Pat’s house, had tea and sandwiches in his living room with his wife, discussed some of the underlying market and performance data, and received a commitment of tens of millions of dollars in one conversation, along with unequivocal personal support. He is the best LP we have ever had, the best LP venture capitalists can hope to have, and the best investor any founder can hope to have.

9. Judicious use of capital. Pat never raised outside capital for IDG, thus retaining majority control until the end. The company rarely borrowed money from the banks, and only in small amounts. This combination of self-reliance, lack of leverage, and private company status allowed IDG to weather the digital media revolution significantly better than any of its peers and thrive to this day.

10. Clear mission statement. Pat believed that “information about information technology” has the power to make the world a better place, and he single-mindedly focused all his businesses on this. There is great power that comes with clear moral context for your business decisions.

11. Health. But a lot of this came with a price. No one will disagree that Pat passed away too early, in an age when life expectancy continues to rise. There is little doubt, though I have no tangible proof, that the constant global travel took its toll on Pat. I do not know the right balance for me, but in admiring so many of the things Pat accomplished and how he lived his life, I will try to learn from him.

Farewell to a great man. Thank you for all that you did, Pat McGovern.

16 comments

  1. Pingback: How Fasting is Similar to the Entrepreneurial Journey « SanFranciscoVC

  2. Alex – thanks for sending me this link to read. I did not have the fortune of knowing Pat, but your tribute gave wonderful color and insight into what seems like a remarkable man and the wonderful traits of his that impacted you. Your piece would serve well for younger generations to learn how to act with professionalism, respect and grace. Thanks for sharing your take-aways.

  3. What a lovely piece, Alex. When Ted called me to tell me the news, I was saddened beyond tears. Pat believed so much in all of us at IDG Ventures – it was so obvious at each meeting. And the stories we all have! I remember Pat squeezing himself into my tiny Prius to go visit companies, reading briefing papers along the way and then asking detailed questions when we arrived. And I remember Pat refusing rides from us after dinners, insisting on walking to the train station at night. So many memories. I miss him….

  4. Alex — what a great tribute to someone who sounds like was a great man. Although I am sorry for your loss, I am glad you had Pat in your life for as long as you did. An inspiring boss, a true mentor, and a loyal friend are hard to find individually let alone in the same person. May we all aspire to be a Pat McGovern to the people in our lives. Cheers.

  5. Great testimonial for a great guy, Alex. You knew Pat very well I can see :-). He created a remarkably far-flung, talented and close-knit IDG “family”, and we can all be grateful that – thanks to Pat’s vision and boundless energy – it endures.

  6. Well said and that first item was the one that impacted me the most as a newly minted college grad and tiny customer of IDG getting personalized attention from Pat. That was close to 30 years ago and I will never forget it. May his example and your retelling it here inspire others to be like Pat.

  7. Alex, your summary mirrors my respect and admiration for Pat as well. I would add that he truly achieved his personal mission in life to spread the IT revolution around the world. It is rare that one man can make such an impact on the global community.

    He was also a great philanthropist being the greatest donar to brain research and MIT, and my sense is that more will be donated posthumously.

    He had a great impact on my life and I will certainly miss him.

  8. Beautiful and heartfelt tribute Alex. Also speaks to the bond between you two. Takes a real human being to understand another beyond the superficial. Reading this made me wish that I’d known him myself.

  9. Alex – thanks for this great post and sharing this with me. I never met him but knew him by reputation from my travels in China, Korea and here in the US. Lots to learn from him….

  10. This was fascinating. Very interesting to read about how he wore a coat and tie even to weekend meetings, flew economy on domestic flights, his wife served tea and sandwiches, and you think global travel impacted his health. Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts.

  11. This was fascinating. It was interesting to read specific details like how he wore a coat and tie to every meeting even on weekends, how he flew economy on domestic flights, and how you think global traffic affected his health. Much more insightful than the typical homage that just uses a bunch of adjectives. Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts.

  12. When I met Pat McGovern for the first time in Korea, he entered into my room and saw the paining on the wall. ‘Oh, Gogh, Do you like his painting’ This is the first personal communication between us. He is not only a great entrepreneur, pioneer and venture capitalist but also loves culture and human being.

    Whenever I was very depressed, he encouraged me and supported me. His kind words left me great lessons about what the leadership is. I will be missing you, Pat.

    R.I.P.

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