by Peter High, published on Forbes
Marina Levinson has had a distinguished career as a CIO at multiple companies in Silicon Valley including NetApp and Palm. When she left the former company in September of 2011, she started a company that helped venture capitalists establish CIO advisory boards, among other things. As she became more involved with VCs, she discovered that it was a field of interest.
In April of 2014, Levinson joined Benhamou Global Ventures as a partner. She brings the experience of a practitioner and a former buyer of technology, which has been invaluable to the company’s portfolio of enterprise technology start-ups.
Levinson has serves on the boards of a number of companies, including Ellie Mae, for which she is the Chair of the Technology Advisory Board. Levinson’s path is highly unusual, but she believes that others will soon follow in her footsteps, as technology opportunities in the form of innovation and issues in the form of cybersecurity concerns dominate the agendas of boards far and wide.
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Peter High: Marina, some know you as the former Chief Information Officer of NetApp, where you spent nearly six and a half years, or as CIO of Palm for another six years before that. But, it is been awhile since you have been a full-time CIO. A lot of your time has been spent in recent years in a variety of ways in the venture capital realm, capped off with your joining Benhamou Global Ventures as a partner. Could you talk a about that career path that you have taken from CIO to VC, how those opportunities presented themselves to you, and how it occurred to you to pursue that career path, which is quite an unusual one for a former CIO?
Marina Levinson: It is unusual. I think it is a very attractive career path for technologists, including CIOs. It is interesting that not that many CIOs decide to pursue this career path, but in order for you to understand how I got there, let me give you a little background on myself. You already mentioned my tenure as CIOs of Palm and NetApp. Before becoming CIO of Palm, I was actually a senior IT executive at 3Com. I was there for more than 12 years, and when 3Com decided to spin off Palm, I got an opportunity to be their first CIO. As far as my tenure at both 3Com and Palm, I worked for Eric Benhamou, who was CEO and Chairman of 3Com, and Chairman of Palm, and when I left Palm to go to NetApp, we continued our relationship and stayed in touch. So when I decided to leave NetApp to start my own technology advisory business “CIO Advisory Group”, Eric became one of my clients.
The focus for my advisory group was to bring together CIOs, VCs, Private Equity, and their portfolio companies to have this ability to exchange ideas for mutual benefit. Obviously, for VCs, Private Equity, and their portfolio companies, it is important to understand how CIOs think. The kind of buying decisions they are making and the kind of strategies they have open the opportunity for them to present portfolio companies that can find early adopters of their technologies. From the CIO’s perspective, being exposed to new technology innovation, especially now when there is this tremendous shift from old technology to a new technology world, is a great opportunity to understand where technology is going. VCs clearly are forward looking, and they are investing in things that will be big in the next 12, 18, or 24 months, and that is a great opportunity for CIOs to understand that and include some of those interesting trends and ideas in their long term strategies.
So, I worked with a number of VCs, and I am still advising Andreessen Horowitz. I have been a part of that organization for almost three years, again helping them with the CIO outreach organization, advising their portfolio companies, and helping them understand how to be more aggressive in selling to senior IT decision makers, whether it is CIOs or their direct reports. I have been working with Eric for about a year, and he has been pleased with some of the contributions that I have made. I actually was really interested in how investment decisions are made (I have been on the other side so many times being sold to), trying to decide what to invest in, and whether those technologies will be sellable, but kind of an interesting perspective to see those 2 sides of the same coin. So, when Eric raised his second fund about a year and a half ago, he offered for me to join him as a partner, and I did in April of last year. I have been a full-time partner with him for a little more than a year. The fund is very much focused on enterprise IT, which is my bread and butter; I understand it quite well. We focus on investing in companies in the areas of cyber-security, cloud, mobile, and new datacenter (software-defined datacenter), and that is kind of our umbrella of investment. It has been a terrific ride. I have learned a lot.