The top 25: Wendell Brooks, Intel Capital

Brian Krzanich, CEO of US-based chip developer, summed up the change brought by his president of Intel Capital and senior vice-president responsible for all areas of strategic group over the past few years.

Kraznich said: “Wendell [Brooks] has sharpened the focus of Intel Capital as the leading strategic investor. More than ever, Wendell is at the heart of innovation at Intel.

“He and his team provide insights to accelerate our transition to a data-centric company. Just as important, Wendell is a leading advocate in the VC industry for greater diversity and inclusion.”

The corporate venturing unit’s importance to Krzanich’s vision of a data-centric company becomes clear in his own keynote at this month’s Intel Capital global Summit when he described how data fuels experience through the two-times faster speed of decline in the cost of data storage against that of processing power. Thirty years ago storage was a burden now it is so relatively cheap and processors so powerful that data “is the most transformational commodity on the planet. Data is the new oil. It is the most precious thing out there.”

And Brooks, who stepped into the shoes of Arvind Sodhani, who his peers had described as the person most responsible for the successful development of the corporate venturing industry over 25 years, in 2016, has focused on Intel Capital’s strategic role in its dealmaking and work with peers in the ecosystem.

And rather than consolidating further decision-making instead delegated responsibilities to a reorganised and refocused team as part of a comprehensive overall of the unit that has seen substantial change in personnel.

With the swing of Intel Capital’s investing pendulum more towards strategic than purely financial returns, Brooks has set clear parameters on achieving this through helping portfolio companies add value and realising Intel Capital is better when it investors together with other corporations and if it has diversified teams and investments.

At his first public speech at the Global Corporate Venturing and Innovation (GCVI) Summit in January 2016, Brooks paraphrased former US President John F Kennedy when he asked not what can portfolio companies do for us, but what we can do for them.

For this year’s Powerlist award, Brooks said: “I am honoured to lead Intel Capital, where we create shareholder value, make pathfinding investments for the future of the corporation, influence corporate and business unit strategy, and contribute to social responsibility. We play a critical role in Intel’s growth and the ecosystems we touch by ‘getting paid to learn’.

“The key is adding value to the companies in which we invest while seeing where money is flowing, where new technologies are headed, and where entrepreneurs are trying to innovate. These learnings are shared across Intel to refine our strategies.

“Making money for our shareholders isn’t enough, it is important to be socially responsible and promote diversity and inclusion across our industry. At CES [Consumer Electronics Show] in 2015, Brian [Krzanich] announced Intel’s commitment to diversity and goal of achieving equal workforce representation by 2020, and the following summer Intel Capital announced a $125m initiative to seek out qualified technology entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds. And we’ve found them, with leadership from former GCV Rising Star Trina Van Pelt, Intel Capital has exceeded our dollar commitment and we now have more than 45 diverse teams with over $250m of capital in our portfolio. In 2017, we more than doubled our 2016 record for backing diverse companies, and those diverse companies represented over 20% of our total investments in 2017.

“Going forward, we are not only committed to continued investment in diverse companies, but also to build a more diverse and inclusive VC community. We have launched a two-year internship program targeting women and underrepresented minorities in their sophomore year of undergrad. They join Intel Capital for a summer, then work with a portfolio company the following year, and receive an offer to join us full time after graduation. Whether or not these individuals join Intel, our goal is to seed the ecosystem and, at the GCVI Summit earlier this year, I challenged our community to do the same – if each of the 300 companies takes at least one intern per year, we can tackle the talent imbalance in the VC industry together. I am pleased to report that many leading CVCs have already embraced this challenge and I encourage those who haven’t to join us.”

With the team reorganised has come sharper focus on what deals are being done and supported.

Brooks said: “We partner with our portfolio companies to deliver business plans and own our investment thesis. Internally, we are structuring our organisation to double down on Intel Capital’s value proposition to portfolio companies by expanding the portfolio management team led by another former GCV Rising Star, Tami Hutchinson. Tami’s team strategically manages the investment thesis and support plan by helping our portfolio companies build productive relationships within Intel and by providing external outreach through Intel Technology Days, access to Intel’s Global 2000 customers, and through our annual Global Summit.”

CEOs of our portfolio companies supported this approach. Babur Ozden, co-founder and CEO of our portfolio company Maana, said: “Events like the annual Intel Capital Global Summit and numerous Intel Technology Days. These have been the single most pipeline generating events for Maana in its early history. And no money, no marketing, no connection can replicate that. This is something Intel Capital does so well for its portfolio companies.”

Brooks, who has this year taken over from Claudia Fan Munce as chairman of the GCV Leadership Society representing the corporate venturing community globally, added: “The power of partnership doesn’t end at Intel and its portfolio companies, we believe that by working with other CVCs the value proposition relative to financial VCs is further differentiated. I’m committed to growing the CVC ecosystem by building syndicates where we provide better outcomes for entrepreneurs. Together, we can share due diligence, offer specific industry expertise, refine technologies and give business guidance, and accelerate the route to market through access to our customers. To support this initiative within my team, I have asked former GCV Rising Star Bryan Wolf and Lee Sessions to team with the CVC ecosystem to find the right opportunities with mutual interest for co-investment. For example, in our recent investment with Joby Aviation, we co-invested with JetBlue Technology Ventures and Toyota AI Ventures because the combination can deliver unique value that would not be possible individually.

“How do we know that our formula is working? Last year nearly 10% of our portfolio companies had successful exits – 10 IPOs and 26 M&A deals. I am proud to highlight how the Intel Capital team has captured learnings to influence the direction of Intel’s corporate strategy, taken a leadership role in fostering diversity and inclusion in venture capital, transformed our portfolio companies, and grown the impact of the CVC ecosystem. Looking to 2018, I am confident that our team of seasoned investment professionals, including current GCV Rising Stars Mauro D’Amato and Nick Washburn, will deliver on our goal of getting paid to learn as Intel Capital shapes Intel’s transformation to a data-centric company and positions Intel for success for another 50 years.”

Overall, Brooks said: “I have the best job in Venture Capital – I work at the preeminent engineering company in world, see emerging technology innovations, and am responsible for shaping our corporate strategy through inorganic investment and growing new businesses internally. As Intel Senior Vice President and President of Intel Capital, I identify and execute M&A transactions and integrate companies like Mobileye and Altera; manage divestitures like McAfee and Wind River; lead our global venture capital investing team and our corporate business development organisation. I recently expanded my scope to include Intel’s New Technology Group, Intel’s incubator for new businesses.

“In its 50th year, Intel is undergoing one of the largest transformations in corporate history. A few years before Brian Krzanich took over as CEO, three-quarters of Intel’s revenue from our PC [personal computer] business, and today it is nearly 50:50 split with data centric. By data centric we mean powering the ability to process, store, transfer, and gain insights from data. Our strategy spans from the internet of things, generating billions of bits of data, that data filters through connectivity to our data centre and the cloud, and there are incredible new artificial intelligence algorithms and technologies to take that data and use for better purposes, which then crave more data and drive demand for more devices – this is the virtuous cycle of growth.

“Shifting to investing, last year I talked about our plans to drive value around artificial intelligence, automated driving, merged reality (AR/VR), 5G, the data centre and immersive sports and entertainment – and we delivered. Intel Capital has invested over $1bn in artificial intelligence companies, and over $16bn in autonomous, which is skewed by the $15bn acquisition of Mobileye. Going forward, we continue to focus on ‘autonomous everything,’ including drones, cars, and robots, hardware and software enabling new applications of artificial intelligence, and workload accelerators optimised to improve performance of targeted applications.

“How we invest is continuously refined. We are deliberately reducing the number of new investments, from 60-70 deals to 30-40 per year, while increasing check size to take leadership positions in rounds with active board seats instead of observer rights – in 2017 we deployed $690m in 42 new and 45 follow on deals.”

Before joining Intel in 2014 as president of mergers and acquisitions, and his promotion to SVP and president of Intel Capital in 2016, Brooks spent 23 years as an investment banker, most recently at Allen & Co, and before that at Citigroup. Half the time of Brook’s investment banking career was spent in Europe. He set up Allen & Co’s London office in 2008, having previously headed Citigroup’s European telecom, media and technology group. Brooks has a degree in industrial and operations engineering and is a master in business administration from the University of Chicago.

Brooks has successfully taken on what was then corporate venturing’s largest program and legacy and, in an era of $100bn corporate venturing funds and multi-billion-dollar investment programs from Asian peers has shaped Intel Capital to compete through more focus and commitment allied to soft power strengths to leverage and magnify its resources.

It is impressive strategic thinking and execution in a short space of time.