PE, VC pioneer Patricof goes against the grain on carried interest

  • Patricof says carried interest should be taxed as ordinary income
  • ‘in the interest of fairness’
  • Agrees with Qualified Small Business Stock exclusion

Veteran investor Alan Patricof bucked the National Venture Capital Association at an event the group co-sponsored, opposing taxation of carried interest at the capital-gains rate.

A conversation between Patricof, 81, and NVCA President Bobby Franklin was the keynote interview of SHIFT NYC, an Oct. 28 conference focused on “bridging the gap” between corporate VC and venture partnerships. After a few introductory questions, Franklin told the crowd, “I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up tax policy, having Alan Patricof here.”

Patricof, founder of Greycroft Partners, has been “very vocal” on the issue, in addition to having “provided a lot of service to our country,” Franklin said. Earlier in his career, Patricof founded Apax Partners.

In contrast to the “nuanced” arguments on the other side, Patricof explained his position in frank terms. “Socially, we’re living in an environment now focused on income inequality” and GPs’ earnings should be taxed as ordinary income “in the interest of fairness,” he told the crowd.

Earlier, Patricof’s microphone had stopped working and was replaced. Franklin at this point interjected that he ought to “give you the bad microphone back.”

Patricof went on: Though the attitude isn’t popular, he said, “there are a lot of VCs who have stepped up privately and said” that changing the rules is the right thing to do.

As an example of favorable tax treatment for early-stage investing that he finds appropriate, Patricof mentioned the Qualified Small Business Stock exclusion, which was “designed originally to help the biotech industry” and excludes certain industries (such as oil and gas and real estate).

In making his case, Patricof recalled an op-ed he wrote for The New York Times in August, published under the headline “Close My Tax Loophole.”

He reiterated several points from that article, including an anecdote about his accountant telling him, after his first exit, “‘We’re going to take this as capital gains because that’s the way it’s being done, but sooner or later they’re going to make it ordinary income.’ And it’s 46 years later and nothing’s happened.”

At this point, Patricof changed the subject to strategic investment: “Is that okay if I ask myself my own question?”

“As long as you don’t go on more about carried interest,” Franklin replied.

It was a good-humored exchange, but the tension underlying it felt real. Franklin expressed the anxiety of a profession that sees its lucrative compensation model threatened by both major parties’ candidates for president.

The fact that Patricof, a major figure in the development of both venture capital and private equity, sides publicly with the industry’s critics on this sensitive question seemed discomfiting to the NVCA president. Franklin complained at one point, half-jokingly, of having to field emails from VCs outraged by Patricof’s advocacy.

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Alan Patricof speaking at PartnerConnect East in New York. Photo taken for VCJ.