CFO tracks the narratives embedded in metrics
CFO, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Menlo Park, Calif.
Growing up in the ’70s, Sue Biglieri recalls being fascinated by Disney. Not Disneyland, the fantasy playground of every other child in America, but the Disney company itself. Today the CFO of the Menlo Park venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), Biglieri says she was the kind of kid who noticed Disney’s great marketing and wondered, “how does it work internally?”
Born in San Jose “around the same time as the tech industry” to an engineer father and enrolled-agent mother, Biglieri has always been drawn to the drama of the technological frontier. Right out of college, in 1984, she opted for an associate position at Ernst & Young in the South Bay rather than pursuing the San Francisco banking or insurance jobs that appealed to her peers—she didn’t want to miss any startup excitement.
But, Biglieri says, “I was never the entrepreneurial spirit wanting to take one of my ideas and make it big.” She was a CPA and is a 25-year KPCB veteran, serving as the firm’s controller for a decade before being named CFO in 2001. “I have always liked the internal workings.”
Her role at KPCB, a 43-year-old firm known for backing startups like AOL, Amazon.com, Intuit, Sun Microsystems, Zynga, and hundreds of others offers the best of both worlds—a professional focus on the firm’s internal financial affairs as well as a front-row seat to world-changing innovations. “I was here when we invested in Google,” Biglieri says. “Now ‘Google’ is a verb.”
Recognized by the San Francisco Business Times as a finalist for the 2008 CFO of the Year, Biglieri describes her position at KPCB as “intense but rewarding, with really bright people…a little bit like back at Cal. No two days are the same.”
Briefly a journalism major (she balked at the intrusiveness of interviewing people who were “crying and dying”) before opting for the “real-world” feel of business administration, Biglieri says she loves that her job today revolves around numbers and finding the narratives embedded in them. “You’re going to make mistakes in venture capital,” she acknowledges. But metrics can tell a story about what went wrong. For example, she says, “I might examine the number of returns from a sector over the last five years to see what we can learn, what we can do better.”
Looking forward, Biglieri says that her “next journey” will involve philanthropy. The specifics have yet to be determined, but she’s looking forward to giving back to Cal among other institutions. Recently, she hosted a breakfast for Dean Rich Lyons at the KPCB office to explore connections between the Haas School of Business and the firm, and she’s joined the National Charity League to educate herself about a range of philanthropic possibilities.
For now, though, Biglieri has no plans to vacate her cherished ringside seat to the future. “I always said I would leave when I got bored or stopped learning,” she says. “Well, I’m still here.” —Autumn Stephens