- Billionaire tech investor and PayPal Co-founder Peter Thiel will step down from board of Facebook owner Meta, the company announced Monday.
- Thiel was an early investor in Facebook.
- He's been a controversial character due to his vocal support of Donald Trump, a lawsuit against Gawker Media and for some of his start-up investments.
Thiel, an early Facebook investor and close confidante of CEO Mark Zuckerberg, will not stand for re-election to the board at the company's 2022 annual stockholders' meeting. He will continue to serve on the board until the annual meeting, the company said.
Thiel has been on the Facebook board since 2005. The company has since touched $1 trillion in market cap and generated more than $117 billion in revenue in 2021. On Wednesday, Facebook issued a first-quarter forecast that badly missed estimates, sending the stock down 26% the following day, its worst drop on record.
While Thiel is lauded for investing in Zuckerberg when the entrepreneur was just a college kid with a popular website, his tenure with the company has been fraught with controversy. Thiel dumped a huge portion of his shares in the company's 2012 IPO and more shortly thereafter, and he hasn't shied away from investing in other start-ups that either compete with Facebook or use its data in unsanctioned ways.
But his political views have caused the greatest turmoil. Thiel was an active booster for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, even as the Republican candidate was expressing extreme views on immigration and was facing numerous accusations of sexual misconduct. Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention in July 2016 and, after Trump was elected, acted as the liaison to Silicon Valley, bringing together top tech execs for a meeting at Trump Tower.
"I want to start by thanking Peter, because he saw something very early, maybe before we saw it," Trump said at the meeting in December 2016. "And of course, he's known for that... he's ahead of the curve."
Thiel invested $500,000 in thefacebook.com in 2004, becoming the first significant outside investor in the fast-growing social networking site that was spreading around college campuses. A year later Zuckerberg renamed the company Facebook.
Prior to the Facebook investment, Thiel made his initial fortune as co-founder of PayPal. He then moved into investing, first through a hedge fund and then as a venture capitalist.
Thiel started Founders Fund in 2005 with Ken Howery and Luke Nosek, who he knew from PayPal. The firm has backed companies including payments platform Stripe, online lender Affirm and room-sharing site Airbnb.
Thiel has also made investments that have seemingly conflicted with his interest in Facebook. For example, in 2019 he backed a start-up called Clearview AI, which scrapes internet profiles to create a facial recognition tool that can be used by law enforcement. Facebook told the company to stop using its data.
Thiel is chairman and co-founder of Palantir Technologies, an investment that's earned him a fortune. The company, which went public in 2020, sells software that has helped the U.S. government track down terrorists.
While Thiel has been fairly quiet about Trump in recent years, he's continued to back Republican candidates for other offices. He put over $10 million into a super PAC that's supporting J.D. Vance, who's running for U.S. Senate in Ohio in 2022.
In the runup to his campaign, Vance earned nearly $1 million in income, mostly from his Thiel-backed venture capital firm and royalties from his bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy," according to Vance's financial disclosure, which was reviewed by CNBC.
Meanwhile, Blake Masters, chief operating officer at investment firm Thiel Capital, is running for U.S. Senator in Arizona. Politico reported in April that Thiel cut a $10 million check to a super PAC supporting Masters.
In addition to financing Republican campaigns, Thiel has invested in settling scores. He made headlines in 2016, when it was revealed he had funded the high-profile legal case by wrestler Hulk Hogan against Gawker Media. The online publication had publicly outed Thiel as gay in 2007.
— Former CNBC reporter Salvador Rodriguez contributed to this report.