Former Canadian prime ministers have largely eschewed the highly visible globetrotting, do-gooding, and glad-handing common to ex-U.S. presidents, preferring to take ceremonial roles at law firms and sit on a few boards. Given his interests while in power, it seemed that Stephen Harper’s post-politics career would be padded out with a few energy company directorships and maybe another hockey book. But while he’s got the obligatory LLC affiliation (Denton’s), Harper’s collection of interests has confounded expectations. The ex-PM has started an international business consulting firm based in Calgary and joined the board of real estate giant Colliers International. His latest gig: Advisor to Silicon Valley venture capital firm 8VC.
In a Medium post announcing his appointment, Harper wrote that the firm “is at the leading edge, tackling the deep and difficult problems that institutions and citizens are facing today.” 8VC’s most notable portfolio companies are virtual reality player Oculus and putative health insurance disruptor Oscar. Other advisors include Valley entrepreneurs, actors, and former FORTUNE500 executives.
Harper’s decision to associate himself with 8VC is surprising said one Canadian venture capitalist (VC) with knowledge of the firm who asked not to be named. The firm was started after the breakup of Formation 8, where founding partner Joe Lonsdale and other members of the team worked; according to reports the split was partly caused by Lonsdale’s handling of a since-dropped sexual assault lawsuit against him. The 34-year-old has been on Forbes Midas List of top tech investors for the last two years, and Formation 8’s first fund reportedly had an internal rate of return (a common VC performance metric) of around 90 per cent, well above industry average.
Advisors are typically brought on board to help a firm raise more capital, determine how to distribute capital, or prevent the loss of capital due to bad investments, said the Canadian VC. The third category usually involves entrepreneurs and executives with substantial domain expertise who can provide insight into a particular industry or market; Harper, who has no substantial previous private sector experience, is unlikely to be able to provide such guidance.
Harper could bring public policy and government connections built up over a decade in office and the stature of a former G8 prime minister to conversations about procurement, infrastructure, health insurance and other highly-regulated or tightly-managed sectors in which 8VC portfolio companies operate. The Canadian source highlighted Hyperloop One, a startup attempting to create a high-speed transportation system, as the 8VC-linked company for which Harper would be the most obvious fit.
It’s not all one-way traffic. Harper’s new friends at 8VC have a wealth of connections of their own. Through the firm’s partners and his fellow advisors, the former prime minister is now connected to three presidents, three of the Valley’s most buzzy CEOs, a Canadian business dynasty, plus Deepak Chopra and Jay-Z. If Harper wants to, say, reeducate sometime environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio on the oil sands, he has only to ask fellow advisor Tobey Maguire for the number of his confederate in the crassly-named Pussy Posse. And if he’s mislaid his invite to Power Corp.’s next shindig, he can text Daniel Saks, who co-founded AppDirect with one of the controlling Desmarais family scions.
We mapped Harper’s new network, using some simple rules. First, while six degrees may be fine for Kevin Bacon, a former prime minister shouldn’t have to ask more than twice to get in touch with someone. So three connections is the max. Second, since advisors rarely work directly with portfolio companies, any connection to an 8VC holding goes through the managing partner. So Harper would need to call Lonsdale to be put in touch with Oscar’s Josh Kushner, brother of presidential consigliere Jared. Third, Harper likely doesn’t need Lonsdale to introduce him to Larry Summers to get in touch with president Barack Obama—as contemporaneous leaders of neighbouring nations, it’s safe to assume they have each other on Snapchat. But the exercise does reveal how closely entwined Washington and the Valley have become.
Let’s play Three Degrees of Stephen Harper. Zoom in or out with the magnifying glass for a closer look, and drag your cursor or finger to follow the connections.