Thomas “Thom” Weisel (Thomas Weisel Partners LLC), HBS 1966, helped launch a niche investment bank based in San Francisco designed to serve emerging-growth companies on the West Coast. In the 1970s, the idea of an investment bank thriving outside of Wall Street was, as he puts it, “almost blasphemous.” Montgomery Securities became an integral part of the Silicon Valley story, however, and emerged as a top-tier investment bank. Montgomery merged with NationsBank in 1997. Thom and several of his original team left soon after to launch Thomas Weisel Partners, which today thrives as a merchant bank for emerging companies. Thom is also actively involved in competitive skiing and cycling, and has a wing at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for his modern art collection. He described his entrepreneurial experiences from his San Francisco office in March 2001. Interviewer: Amy Blitz, HBS Director of Media Development for Entrepreneurial Management.
The Early Years Probably the two most important elements of my childhood were my father as a role model and my participation in sports. I achieved a modest amount of success in sports at a very young age—by the time I was ten years old. I think that really helped in terms of building my confidence and giving me the ability to assess the future, set goals, be disciplined, and be able to make sacrifices. All these skills are important in business. I was involved in a fair number of team sports as well, so it gave me an appreciation for that element of sport and how it relates to business.
My dad came from a pretty harsh background. Both of his parents were professors at Columbia but they had no economic means. My dad was both a sports person and an aspiring doctor. He was number one in his class at Wisconsin and at Harvard Medical School. Then he went to the Mayo Clinic. He had very, very high standards for himself and had very high standards for his three kids. There was a fair amount of friction because of that, but I think the more positive aspects have certainly rubbed off on me.
When I was ten years old and skating in a Wisconsin State Championship, I got within twenty or thirty meters of the finish line when the two young people that were ahead of me fell down. I skated across the line first and had my picture in the local Whitefish Bay Herald or whatever it was called. Somehow, I thought that was a real big deal. I think it was a powerful motivator to continue trying to excel. That led me into winning five national championships.
I’m told that I’m still in the national record books for a number of events, so I guess I was somewhat accomplished back then. I was the youngest person to make the Olympic team. I never skated in the Olympics but I was third in the Olympic trials in 1959 when I was seventeen years old. About six months later I had a major knee injury but I was able to accomplish a certain amount of success in skating at a pretty young age.