Going Against the Grain
by Chris De Benedetti
At an age when most successful businesspeople turn their thoughts to retirement, William Hambrecht sought something he has never avoided.
|Prime Mover: William Hambrecht|
|Title: Chairman and CEO|
|Distinctions: Co-founded Hambrecht & Quist, a successful investment banking firm.|
|Education: Princeton University, B.S.|
|Company: WR Hambrecht + Co|
|Net Worth: $500 million|
A radical change.
He recently severed ties with his old company, Hambrecht & Quist, and his new Internet-based firm may turn investment banking on its ear. WR Hambrecht + Co is taking a more egalitarian approach to stock offerings. In many cases, it takes the bold step of offering selected stock to individual investors.
Hambrecht, 64, also is using Silicon Valley technology to offer an "OpenIPO," which turns an IPO's typical first-day gains into funds for the offering company, not cash for traders.
This nearly unprecedented outreach to the smaller, often shutout, investor ruffles the clubby feathers of Wall Street's usual suspects, who benefit most from the IPO underwriting process.
Reactions among his ex-colleagues range from admiration to open irritation. These groundbreaking methods have led some to charge Hambrecht is breaking many of the rules he played by and even helped create.
Hambrecht shrugs off the critics, however, because intelligent change is nothing new for him.
In the mid-'60s, he made a gutsy exit from Wall Street and headed to San Francisco. He proved all the skeptics wrong by founding Hambrecht & Quist, an incredibly successful investment banking firm that grew along with Silicon Valley.
Hambrecht never looked back. He never stopped moving forward, either. More than 30 years later, he is not just shifting gears; he's leading the charge into a nearly revolutionary maelstrom of economic and technological change. As founder and CEO of WR Hambrecht + Co, he altered his role from cautious investment banker to Internet-business pioneer.
"I'm not a Wall Street guy anymore. ... We grew up with Silicon Valley, we grew up with the Internet," Hambrecht says.
"We think like an entrepreneurial firm and basically a Silicon Valley firm. And entrepreneurial Silicon Valley firms basically change things."
Hambrecht sees criticism as the price one must pay to follow his vision: "I was frustrated, like many entrepreneurs get frustrated, in trying to make some changes within my old organization."
As with any venture into the great unknown, Hambrecht has had his share of missteps. Salon.com's public offering proved lukewarm, for example. That has been more the exception than the rule, however. Hambrecht bounced back in the spring with a strong IPO for Nogatech Inc.
Despite some growing pains, Hambrecht is confident that his new venture is following the natural opportunities offered by the Internet. And he is following his heart.
"When you've been fortunate enough to be part of an entrepreneurial company where you could really try ideas ... it spoils you," says Hambrecht. "And I found I really missed that, and I'm having the time of my life again."
Tune into PBS' Nightly Business Report tonight to see Donald Van de Mark's interview with William Hambrecht. Prime Movers airs every Thursday on the Nightly Business Report. Check your local listing for times.
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