clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

At Kleiner Perkins Trial, Randy Komisar Accuses Ellen Pao of 'Politicking'

"We didn't have lots of issues, we had one issue."


For Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers general partner Randy Komisar, things went sour with Ellen Pao in 2010 when she suggested to him that the senior management of the patent startup RPX “hated him” as a board member and encouraged him to resign his seat.

“I was stunned,” he testified today. “I’d never heard the term ‘hate’ in that context before — these were business matters, not personal matters.”

Before then, Komisar and Pao had worked closely and well with each other, he said. He served as a sounding board for her when she had moments of friction with other partners. Other partners simply didn’t complain about each other, Komisar testified — only Pao.

“Before that I was working hard to help her succeed,” Komisar testified in response to a juror question. “I felt it was a betrayal of confidence to talk to my partners about how to remove me, to politick behind my back, and I thought that was unforgivable.”

Komisar, a general partner at the firm, took the stand today for the defense and responded to a variety of Pao’s allegations. And as you might expect, his answers proved to be consistent with Kleiner Perkins’ version of events, not Pao’s. Komisar, who wore a white dress shirt, a black jacket and black cowboy boots, smiled and clasped his hands as he walked up to the stand. Compared to many past witnesses, he was less argumentative, seemed to remember more of the past and spoke in more even tones to both sides.

On the stand he explained what seems to be a Kleiner Perkins philosophy: Strength of personality matters most.

“You need to be a thought leader among your peers if you’re going to be effective,” Komisar said. “Being a great partner is as important as being smart or being right.”

He said he’d helped Pao through a number of “conflicts” with colleagues. In one email, he wrote to her encouraging her to calm down: “Enjoy yourself and exhale.”

“Changing topics,” said the KP defense attorney Lynne Hermle, “We have over here a series of things I’m going to ask you about.”

The book, the Buddha and the board game

Pao has testified that she felt a gift in 2007 from Komisar, “The Book of Longing” by Leonard Cohen which includes sexual poetry and sketches of female nudes, was inappropriate. And the date, Valentine’s Day, exacerbated that.

Komisar said there was nothing unusual about the book or the date. His wife had helped him choose it (Pao and Komisar share an interest in Buddhism, as does Cohen). And everyone at the firm gives little gifts around Valentine’s Day, “usually gifts for the executive assistants,” as Komisar said. He said Pao had given him small gifts for the holidays (including a board game) and that he wanted to be sure and repay the favor because, “I knew Ellen was quick to take slight and see the negative.”

Pao, who has shown little reaction to witness testimony through the trial, shook her head and smiled at this.

Hermle asked Komisar to read Cohen’s bio on the back of the book: “Internationally celebrated for his writing and his music, Leonard Cohen …”

And then she had him read the inscription: “To Ellen, A taste of Dharma Bum to remind that the dharma breathes in and out and is nothing special. Best, Randy.”

He said Pao never complained about the gift and that she and he remained seemingly close — she showed off her cowboy boots to him since she knew he was a fan of Western wear, he said. (Pao testified that she did not recall whether she did or did not do this).

Pao has said Komisar asked her out to dinner one weekend when his wife would be out of town. Komisar denied this, sort of — he testified that he’d told Pao they should have had dinner that weekend because Pao had been at the office near his house and his wife had been out of town.


When someone suggested investing in the patent startup RPX to John Doerr, he asked Pao and Komisar to both look into it; Pao was the more ardent supporter. Kleiner Perkins chose to invest; Komisar was given the board seat over Pao; and the company went public within three years, a remarkable outcome. Pao has argued that Doerr and Komisar suggested she couldn’t take the seat because she was pregnant. This is a central crux of her suit.

On the stand, Komisar said this was not the case. He said that he never raised the issue of maternity leave until she did in an email. (Pao says she raised it in the email because she says Doerr talked to her about her pregnancy, a conversation that went undocumented.)

The emails Hermle called up today suggest that Pao did not complain about Komisar getting the seat.

“I wholeheartedly support your suggestion and agree with your recommendation that Randy be our board member,” Pao wrote to Doerr.

She wrote again later: “I have no problem with a Randy board seat at all. … I’m very happy with the outcome and have absolutely no issue with it. I don’t feel a need to discuss it more unless you do.”

Komisar allowed Pao to sit in on board meetings as an observer. But later on, he said, she began politicking and undermining him. She told him that other members of the RPX board “hated him” and wanted him off the board.

He said Juliet De Baubigny encouraged him to take Pao out of her board observer role altogether. Pao was shuffled out of her role with the company, and then when Komisar asked Pao for help setting RPX up with her Google contacts, she declined. He was offended by this.

So was Pao left out of an RPX celebration dinner when it went public? No, Komisar said. She was left out of a celebratory dinner RPX had around the time it went public, but it wasn’t an official IPO celebration. RPX never had an official IPO dinner. Komisar remains on the company’s board.

Did KP exclude Pao after her complaint?

Pao submitted a complaint to Kleiner Perkins in the beginning of January 2012. Later that month, a partner at Google Ventures, Wesley Chan, was working on a venture that he wanted Kleiner Perkins to take a look at — and quickly. He’d been talking to Pao but reached out to Komisar over a buffet lunch at the Kleiner Perkins office.

Pao testified Komisar told Chan that she wasn’t the person to talk to. Komisar said he absolutely did not do any such thing and that he was just helping Chan “accelerate things.”

As Komisar described the lunch on the stand: “Wesley came up to me, said hello and was asking his advice on how to accelerate his venture. My question was who had he chosen to lead this — he said he was working with Ellen — and I asked if he’d raised this with other contacts he knew at the firm, Brook Byers and Ted Schlein, in order to accelerate this. I suggested it was important to consult with all of them. He then said, ‘I get it.’ And that was the last I heard about it.”

Two end notes:

Komisar is also the author of a book and is described as “entrepreneurial sage Randy Komisar” in the blurb: “At once a fictional tale of Komisar’s encounters with a would-be entrepreneur and a personal account of how Komisar found meaning not in work’s rewards but in work itself, the book illustrates what’s wrong with the mainstream thinking that we should sacrifice our lives to make a living.” (4.1 stars on Amazon and 3.74 on Goodreads)

The entire defense team was wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day. It was a good showing. Pao’s attorney Therese Lawless had maybe a green shirt on, but it was a light pastel. Pao had on a bright green blazer. The judge brought green shamrock sugar cookies for everyone and placed them near the bailiff.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.