Paul Allen 1953-2018 (picture: Vulcan)

Paul Allen created one of the world’s most dynamic private investment offices


The tragic news of the death of Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, at 65 will inevitably lead to an analysis of his considerable legacy. Much of that legacy is of course tied up Microsoft, but also with Vulcan, the investment and a philanthropic group he set up with his sister Jody Allen in 1986 with his vast fortune.

In some ways, Vulcan became the archetypal private investment office of a billionaire, but it was also one of the most unique. Transparent with most of its endeavours pretty much from the start, Vulcan was involved in a host of ground-breaking investments and philanthropic efforts. Those efforts were perhaps more diverse than any other family investment group in the world, or at least, just as much as any of its counterparts. Vulcan pushed the boundaries of what a family investment group could be, overseeing a host of hardnosed investments driven by the profit motive as much as any other business, but many of investments were about making the world a better place through cutting-edge innovation.  

Allen created such an endearing legacy at Vulcan that his spirit will live on through all his efforts at the investment group for many years

And those efforts were centred on a holding company structure, with Vulcan Inc, the parent company, overseeing Vulcan Capital, Allen’s  main venture investment group, Vulcan Real Estate, which played a big part in the redevelopment of parts of Seattle, and a whole host of other groups pushing ideas in technology, impact investing, artificial intelligence, and biotech. Vulcan also oversaw Allen’s well-known ownership of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.

Allen also funnelled much of his philanthropic efforts through Vulcan. He and Vulcan were big in areas like conservation, ocean health, public health, urban regeneration, and alternative energy. He gave away billions of dollars to philanthropic efforts dear to his heart. Just this week, Forbes brought out their list of America’s Top Givers, with Allen ranking number 28.

Inevitably, as the shock of his death begins to subside there will be questions asked about the future of Vulcan. Allen never married and had no children, so succession on that side isn’t an issue. The most obvious person to take the role of the new principal is Jody Allen, who played a pivotal role in Vulcan’s strategy for its 30-plus years of existence, being its chief executive for many of those years.  

No doubt Jody will make some changes, and there has already been speculation in the Seattle media about what she’ll do with the sports teams. She’s a fan of the Seahawks, but less so of the Trail Blazers.

Whatever happens, Allen created such an endearing legacy at Vulcan that his spirit will live on through all his efforts at the investment group for many years. And for those looking from the outside to perhaps gain tips on how to run a family investment group, Paul Allen’s Vulcan is one of the finest examples the world has to offer.

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