CARY, N.C. – Jeff Barber brought down the curtain on 10 years of venture capital presentations Thursday – and received a standing ovation from the crowd as a sendoff.
Barber, who is retiring as the lead partner for the PricewaterhouseCoopers practice in Raleigh in June, took the stage at the Embassy Suites hotel to lead a discussion of trends in the VC industry. He’s done so since before the VC bubble helped fuel the “dot com” explosion in the late 90s. Even in the midst of the 2001-2 nuclear winter when deals were scarce, Barber soldiered on with the “Shaking the MoneyTree” events that were as much about statistics as they were matching VCs with entrepreneurs.
“Oh, man, what a guy,” said Dennis Dougherty, the dean of North Carolina’s venture capitalists and founder of Intersouth Partners, referring to Barber. “I’ve known Jeff since he moved here more than h20 years ago. He has been the most consistent supporter of entrepreneurial activities of any of the big accounting firms. He will definitely be missed.”
Dougherty, Council for Entrepreneurial Development President Monica Doss, Intersouth’s Mitch Mumma, David Jones and Jason Caplain from Southern Capitol Ventures, Steve Nelson of Wakefield Group and about 100 other folks turned out for the last Barber show.
Insisting that the farewell had been “overhyped,” Barber took the applause and some good-natured ribbing in stride. Asked why he hadn’t worn a plaid jacket to the event, he insisted he had bought the louder-than-loud attire at Brooks Brothers. In other words, he thought it was stylish.
Barber certainly isn’t retiring from deal making and offering the kind of insight only accountants can. He wants to serve on corporate boards. And groups like the CED, which he chaired for two terms, are certainly going to want his input to continue. Having helped take firms like Red Hat public, Barber is likely to be asked to help other firms find that same equity exit.
However, Barber never lost sight of the startup entrepreneurs even as PwC focused on the big game. And in helping the little firms Barber generated good will that won’t be forgotten.
“Jeff believes in entrepreneurs,” Daugherty said. “He is great at working very complex issues. He would hold entrepreneurs’ hands, explain these issues and the entrepreneurs work through them.
“He would hold their hand. He could have tried to get Progress Energy instead, but he was always supportive of the little guy. Supportive is the word.”
As Barber shook hands and moved toward a personal exit from one career to the next, he admitted he wouldn’t miss everything about his PwC role, including the VC briefings.
“I feel a little relieved; these take a lot of work,” he said. As for post-PwC life, Barber quipped, “I hope there’s a safety net out there somewhere.”