(Bloomberg) -- John Thompson, the chairman of Microsoft Corp., is joining one of Silicon Valley’s hottest venture firms as a partner. Thompson’s appointment at Lightspeed makes him one of the most prominent black venture capitalists.
Since taking over as chairman when Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates stepped down 2014, Thompson has played an important role supporting a bid by Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella to modernize the software maker and push quickly into the cloud business. At Lightspeed, Thompson will have a wide range of companies to work with. The firm’s investments include Snap Inc., Honest Co. and AppDynamics Inc. Lightspeed’s most recent fund from 2016 has $1.2 billion.
Venture capitalists are mostly white or Asian men, similar to the tech industry at large. There are few black VCs, but Thompson is the second high-profile hire from the business world in recent months. In January, General Catalyst named Kenneth Chenault, the former American Express Co. CEO, as a partner.
Thompson plans to focus on young companies building cybersecurity or infrastructure technology for businesses, he wrote in an email.
Microsoft hasn’t been a startup since the 1980s, and it took only one venture deal, from Dave Marquardt at Technology Venture Investments, when Microsoft was valued at $200 million. Today, Microsoft’s market capitalization is about $720 billion. Once viewed as a stuffy, old-school software business, Microsoft’s efforts in areas ranging from cloud computing to augmented reality have raised its profile in the startup ecosystem.
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