NVCA’s Heesen Talks About His Decision to Leave and Venture’s New Era

Longtime head of the National Venture Capital Association Mark Heesen announced on Thursday that he will step down from his post when a successor is found.

After 22 years with the association and 14 as its president, Heesen said it was time for new blood. He says he remains optimistic about the industry’s future even as challenges remain and a new era for venture begins to unfold.

The NVCA said a search for a replacement has begun and that no deadline has been set for a decision.

PeHUB caught up with Heesen yesterday and what follows is an edited transcript of the conversation. A more extensive version of the interview will appear here on the Venture Capital Journal site (for subscribers only).

Q: How will the association go about finding a new leader?

A: The search committee has engaged Russell Reynolds, the major search firm with an expertise in hiring association presidents. They picked the right folks to do this. I think they will cast a wide net

Q: How long do you expect the search to last?

A: I think there will be a lot of interest in this position actually. I think you will have folks from the Washington association world interested. You could have venture capitalists interested who are either leaving the industry as senior executives or possibly some younger folks who may have had some Washington experience in the past. I think that Russell Reynolds is going to have its hands full. When the (announcement of my retirement) hit the wire I think they were getting phone calls and resumes.

Q: Why did you decided to leave the NVCA?

A: I look at it from several angles. One, 22 years, going on 23, is a long time. I think that it is imperative that there has to be new blood. I think that I’ve been been good at moving the association. But there comes a time when your originality starts to look a little stale. Everyone needs to re-evaluate where they are at some point and say, “What is not only best for me, but what is best for the association.” This is an advantageous time for both of us to look at different paths.

Q: You said several angles. What are the others?

A: I’ve tried to keep the association as entrepreneurial as possible. We try to be a portfolio company because that’s what our board understands. I think that just like a portfolio company, once it grows to a certain point, the CEO that’s in that spot did a really good job. But sometimes a different person is needed to take it to the next level. I think we are kind of at that point.

Q: What do you mean by next level?

A: We have done tremendous work in growing this association and making it something that our membership actually understands and wants to be a member of. We’ve had public policy victories. We’ve been able to bring in different types of members over the years (and) have different types of services. But I think we are entering into a new era of venture. It’s been, as you know, not a great couple years in the venture market.

Q: What do you look upon as your greatest success as a lobbyist for venture?

A: This may sound a little pie in the sky (but) I really believe that what we have done as an association over the past two decades is (to develop) incredible integrity on the Hill. We didn’t lie. We were always honest and upfront with politicians and, frankly, with the press. When things didn’t go right after 1999 and 2000 with the IT bubble, we were out there saying, yeah a lot of people in the VC industry screwed up. A lot of good came out of the bubble. But a lot of things also got screwed up.

When we talk about successes on the Hill and securities litigation reform and carried interest or immigration or any of these issues, we have never walked on the edge and tried to make up arguments or been too cute with our arguments. I think that we have done our level best to be as honest and open with members of Congress, and I think that has paid dividends. I think we really and truly are viewed as credible.

6 Comments

  • I wonder if Mark believes the Jobs Act will pass through the SEC, or if he is concerned the legislation will be altered…

  • I strongly disagree with pretty much every statement Mark makes, and has made. I don’t know how you can defend dismal venture performance and structural economic dysfunction amid an 80% untapped greenfield of technology adoption. Perhaps if you keep comparing it to asset-classes that are hundred years older and way past their chasm.

    The NVCA has done a good job for 99.4% of venture firms that don’t produce renewable venture style returns. Hats off to those who also want to forget that 2-year post-IPO performance is -30% which leaves the public with the deficit of the false positives venture has managed to sell to the ever-growing chain of greater-fools.

    Exercise your right to become informed in an article I (coincidentally?) wrote about Mark just one month ago, called “Greater-fool paradise”:

    http://venturecompany.com/blog/2013/02/greater-fool-paradise/

    The opportunity for innovation remains fantastic, but not with the defunct economics of investor socialism as its arbitrage.

  • Not sure the SEC can alter the legislation. Clearly though, with the leadership change, it has been slow to implement solicitation and other rules.

  • Russell Reynolds to do the search for next CEO? This tells us three things:

    – There’s no one who has been developed in the organization for succession
    – That the NVCA will revert to another association hack instead of naming a real working VC in the job, and
    – The NCVA has chosen a firm (Russell Reynolds) with no standing in the ventures community, ensuring that they have no context for the search

    Pretty dismal, Mark, pretty dismal. Doesn’t this group have a board?

  • You raise a good question. I imagine NVCA staffers are permitted to compete for the job. I have a feeling at the same time the NVCA would be open to considering a venture capitalist with industry experience and a flair for the Washington world.

  • Frank, I’m not sure I agree with your assertion that the vacancy needs a real working VC. For one thing, being a president of a trade association representing several hundred of your peers is not what VCs are good at, and I don’t know of any VC who wants that job, do you? I’m sure, however, if someone from theventure industry was interested, the recruiter would consider it. I’ve covered other groups and associations over the years and this is a rather typical setup. You get someone with Washington experience or someone who knows and understands politics and how lobbying works and you stack the organization’s board and chair seat with members from the group that he or she represents. And, yes, this NVCA group has a board. A rather active one, too.

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