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Frank and Friends

Feb
9
2003

Editor’s Note:This post originally appeared as a news story in The New York Post.

He may be heading for disgrace, but Credit Suisse First Boston technology banker Frank Quattrone deserves almost all the credit for teaching Silicon Valley Wall Street ways – and showing the world how wealthy and how cool geeks could be.

While he may now be facing charges from the National Association of Securities Dealers and under investigation by other regulators, Quattrone will keep a special place in the annals of Silicon Valley.”Somehow or another, he bought into the scale of what was happening in Silicon Valley quicker than anyone else,” said Bill Hambrecht, another California financial pioneer whose former firm worked with Quattrone on deals that included Apple Computer and Netscape.

Sometime during the early 1980s – long before he took Netscape Communications public (the deal that showed the world just how right he’d been all those years) – Quattrone, 47, figured out that he could make geeks rich.

“What I think Frank did better than any tech banker was sort of vibrate at the same frequency as they did,” said a former Quattrone associate who worked with him at Morgan Stanley, where he ran its San Francisco tech banking practice until 1996.

Quattrone not only understood tech, he also had a shrewd understanding of the people who ran the business.

Twenty years ago Silicon Valley really was a world of math-oriented thinkers with great ideas and crummy social and sales skills. As a Stanford University student, Quattrone rubbed elbows with engineers and computer scientists, and he’d seen their toys and their passion.

When he became a banker, he didn’t forget.

“This business is easy. All you have to do is make people like you,” Quattrone once told an associate.

“I think that was said in contrast to how New York bankers approached Silicon Valley,” the former associate recalled.
“Which was suspenders, ties – sort of coming in with a New York attitude and not caring or not knowing the technology.”

That not knowing nor caring drove the geeks crazy, and it fueled their resentment, which Quattrone skillfully tapped.

Although he represented the classic white-shoe banking house, Quattrone wore goofy sweaters, gifts from his much-doted-upon only daughter.

Tech banking retreats held by Morgan Stanley were famous for Quattrone’s top-of-the-lung warbling of “Rocky Raccoon.” He carried the pitch books for multi-million-dollar deals in a gym bag, not in a polished leather briefcase.

Consciously or not, Quattrone cultivated the image of being a nice-guy suburban Dad, not a foul-mouthed deal-doer from back East. The Valley loved him because he made them rich; they liked him because he was just like them – or how they liked to see themselves: young, smart, ambitious.

Still, the banking business is full of stories of people who’ve been on the receiving end of Quattrone’s sharp tongue and often dramatic displays of temper.

But even those on the receiving end acknowledge Quattrone’s skill.

“He personally saved Oracle,” a former colleague said. Quattrone brought Nippon Credit Bank of Japan to Oracle in 1990, as the database company was trying to recover from an accounting scandal.

His public offerings are Silicon Valley’s blue-chip stocks: Cisco, Intuit and Claris – which was spun out and then spun back into Apple Computer – Adobe, Cypress and Silicon Graphics; Avid and 3DO.

“Frank had an uncanny ability to position companies,” one banker said. How he positioned himself as well is now up to history.

As the most active tech banker in Silicon Valley, Quattrone put himself at the center of a growing deal scene, becoming a key player in a set of business relationships under the “friends and family” rubric – a catch-all phrase Valley insiders use to talk about someone they like.

It served him well. From SGI and Apple, Quattrone knew the people who started Netscape. So, of course, he got that business – the IPO that launched a revolution not just in the way people used computers, but the way Wall Street thought of tech stocks.

And when Netscape tripled in price its first day of trading, he got to gloat.

“I remember, he stood smugly in the back of the room during the road show,” Quattrone’s former colleague said. “He stood smugly saying ‘This is my deal; I want my fingerprints all over this thing.’ ”

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