Tech Check

Al Gore's Ongoing "Internet" Connection


Al Gore is having the kind of dream year that conjures up an image of a man cheated by the gods seven years ago, and those gods have been looking to make good on their mistake ever since.

How else do you explain the kind of blockbuster year he's having? Oh sure, the guy's won the Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth;" and today the Nobel committee woke him up very early to notify him that he's been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But I'm not talking about those little things.

I'm talking about the other roles Gore plays here in Silicon Valley. He sits on Apple Inc.'s  board of directors and holds what appears to be 70,000 options to buy Apple shares. Those shares were trading at about $79 at the beginning of the year, worth about $5.5 million. Today, at $170 a share, Gore's position has ballooned to well over $10 million. Not bad. But not astronomical either.

Gore also played a key role in that internal Apple investigation into alleged stock options backdating that might have involved Apple CEO Steve Jobs. In fact, it was Al Gore who headed the Special Committee that would ultimately find "no misconduct by current management," which of course essentially exonerated Steve Jobs and went a long way toward eliminating that hovering dark cloud over Jobs and his future at the company. Some say it took a guy like Al Gore to make that happen; that anyone else would not have carried the same kind of authority or credibility.

Still, his role and the outcome of the investigation cannot be understated for Apple shareholders. Some will argue that one of the key reasons why Apple shares were able to blossom this year is because that cloud was eliminated. Apple shares have added tens of billions of dollars in market cap since those allegations went away, making Al Gore a kind of folk hero to Apple shareholders. He oversaw the investigation, dotted the i's, crossed the T's, and the charges went away. He's been a tremendous asset to the company.

I expect a nice congratulatory note from Apple, or even Steve Jobs himself, later today. And well deserved.

He is also a special advisor to Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, a role he's played since 2001. He doesn't have an official role there; nor does he sit on Google's board. But he does enjoy unique access to the company, and many believe he enjoys significant access to Google shares. Was he awarded pre-IPO stock in the company? What about options since for his nebulous role as adviser to the company? Is he on the payroll? What does he make?

Murmurings in the Silicon Valley are that Gore receives a hefty chunk of compensation from the company, but no one is disclosing it. The company need not disclose any compensation to Gore if he's not classified as a "director" or a top executive. And only Google's largest shareholders need to disclose their positions in the company. If Gore were a "huge" shareholder with a measurable percentage of the company's stock, that would mean he'd be worth billions.

That's unlikely. But it could be extremely significant, say, hundreds of millions of dollars, without having to be disclosed, thanks to the rocket ship ride Google shares have enjoyed. No matter what, it seems Gore likely carries some kind of position in the company and going back to his phenomenal year: Google began the year at around $450 a share. Today it sits at $625 and several analysts have issued $700 targets for the company.

He's also very tight with Kleiner Perkin's hotshot venture partner John Doerr who enjoys rock star status of his own as a kind of Silicon Valley King Midas. It stands to reason that Gore and Doerr have likely gotten together on a few deals over the years, which also could be a lucrative revenue stream for the former vice president.

I remember covering Al Gore when he joined President Bill Clinton on a visit to Silicon Graphics back in 1993. The mood was electric. Clinton and Gore both "got it" when it came to technology. Clinton relayed a story when he first got into the White House about how antiquated the technology was; how White House operators, in order to connect a call, would pull a plug out of a socket in a board, and then put it in a new socket to make the connection, ala "Little House on the Prairie." We all laughed, but it was a sign, a signal, that these guys recognized the old, saw the promise of the new, and were eager to meet with the people who could make it happen.

Gore's kept his connections alive to the Silicon Valley. Contrary to urban myth, Al Gore never made the claim that he invented the internet. But he has recognized technology's potential and has become a very rich man because of it, this year, more than any other.

Oh, and the new hardware on his shelf is nice, too.

Questions?  Comments?