“What I appreciate is highly stimulating environments, and when I started my career, I was naïve there’s no better place for that than Silicon Valley.”

Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.

by Samantha Stainborn

“What I appreciate is highly stimulating environments, and there’s no better place for that than Silicon Valley.” — Robert Kavner, B.B.A. ’65

While reinvention implies replacing the old with the new, a second or third act often has roots in an earlier career. That’s the case with Pebble Beach, California-based venture capitalist Robert Kavner, B.B.A. ’65, who invests in early stage technology companies like Internet radio company Pandora Media and electric car manufacturer Aptera Motors. He addressed new Adelphi students during the University’s Matriculation ceremony on August 27.

The son of a factory worker, Mr. Kavner grew up near Adelphi in Franklin Square, New York, and was the first in his family to go to college. “In Franklin Square, the two people who wore ties were the optometrist and the accountant,” he recalled. “So I said, ‘I’ll be an accountant.’” 

During his senior year, his advanced accounting instructor got him an interview with Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP), one of the eight largest accounting firms at the time. After he completed an internship there, the firm offered him a position. 

Mr. Kavner rose quickly through the ranks at Coopers & Lybrand, emulating managers he admired and learning how businesses operate through his work auditing companies. He became a partner by his mid-30s, with clients like AT&T, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Columbia University. When the partner in charge of the AT&T account retired, the chief financial officer at AT&T suggested Mr. Kavner step into the role. After a few years as CFO, Mr. Kavner took on operating responsibilities for several business units, then was named CEO of AT&T’s Multimedia Products and Services Group and a member of AT&T’s Executive Committee. 

Exiting the company and not ready to retire in his early 50s, with young children, he helped launch Idealab, a Pasadena-based technology-company incubator founded by software entrepreneur Bill Gross in 1996. Since its start, Idealab has created and operated more than 75 companies, including online community guide CitySearch, Internet provider EarthLink, and digital photo organizer Picasa, leading to 30 initial public offerings (IPOs) and acquisitions. As a member of Pandora’s Board of Directors, Mr. Kavner helped usher the online radio service to a successful IPO where its shares sold at nearly double their initial target range. 

The key to his successful reinvention? “I’m highly adaptable,” he said. “Even though I had the corporate jet, I didn’t need it, so I didn’t feel a sense of remorse giving it up. What I appreciate is highly stimulating environments, and there’s no better place for that than Silicon Valley.”

This piece appeared in the Adelphi University Magazine Fall 2011 edition.

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