Tom Perkins didn’t need much convincing to join us on “Bloomberg West,” after his much-maligned letter to the Wall Street Journal comparing the “war” on the one percent in America to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. In fact, he embraced the opportunity to further explain himself, and before we went on the air, he said he wanted clarify a few things. 1. That he is not a billionaire, just a multi-millionaire. 2. That the storied venture capital firm he founded which now bears his name, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers, “threw him under the bus.” 3. That his late partner Eugene Kleiner fled Hitler from Austria and would have approved of his “message.”
When Perkins immediately told me he regretted comparing the “Occupy Movement” and protests of “Google buses” to Kristallnacht – considered the first major event in the Holocaust -- it seemed this was going to be his apology tour. While he apologized for using the word “Kristallnacht” he made a point to say he did not apologize for the letter: “The letter said what I believed. And I believe we have to be careful that we don’t demonize anybody and that we certainly don’t demonize the most creative part of our society.” The most creative part of our society, he believes, is the 1%.
But that was not the most-tweeted part of the interview. While saying the 99% shouldn’t criticize the 1% for wearing Rolexes, he mentioned his own watch could “buy a six-pack of Rolexes.” His Richard Mille watch could likely buy a few six-packs of Rolexes, depending on what price points you're looking at. He added his was actually a gift from a company after he “bought this big boat.” Perkins is a collector of yachts, fancy cars and an underwater airplane (which I've covered), but added that he does not originally hail from the 1%. In fact, he said he has family living in trailer parks (“not immediate family”). Before I got off the air, a meme had already been created and tweets were flying. Someone even wrote a poem about it.
I asked him if he felt he was divorced from reality, he said no. However, based on reaction to this story, it's apparent that he is divorced from the reality that 99% of us live in. Yet, as he answered my questions, he appeared brutally honest and even a little vulnerable. When we first shook hands in the green room, I expected a grumpy old man. Instead, I found a man who was open to criticism and willing to debate. By the end of our 45-minute conversation, it was clear he was describing his reality.
Tom Perkins once called himself “the King of Silicon Valley.” When I asked what he’d call himself now, he said, “I certainly have enough arrogance to be royal, but I’m an old man. I look back upon my career with great happiness. I think I’ve accomplished a lot. If I had to do it again, I don’t know what I’d change. And I’m at peace with myself. The fact that everybody now hates me is part of the game. I’m sorry about that, but it isn’t what I meant to do.”
WATCH The full, 27-minute video of my interview with Perkins here: http://bloom.bg/1aEAJnC