Edmund H. Shea, Jr. Dies at 80; Entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist Co-Founded Shea Homes and Helped Launch Hundreds of Start-Up Companies
Led One of Nation's Top Tunneling Companies
August 15, 1929-August 13, 2010
SAN MARINO, Calif., Aug. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- Edmund H. Shea, Jr., an entrepreneur and pioneering venture capital investor who led one of the nation's top tunneling companies and co-founded Shea Homes, one of the largest homebuilders in the country, died Aug. 13 at his San Marino home. He was 80.
The cause of death was pulmonary fibrosis.
During the 1960s, Mr. Shea pioneered venture investing and provided early stage capital for Hambrecht & Quist, which became a prominent technology investment banking firm based in San Francisco. Over the next 40 years, Mr. Shea made early investments in hundreds of start up companies -- including Activision, Adobe, Altera Corporation, Brocade, Compaq Computer, Genentech, Affymax, America West Airlines, AES Corporation, and Peet's Coffee & Tea. Fabrinet, a company that he funded in 2000, successfully completed its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange last month.
Trained as an engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Shea did not fit the stereotype of a venture capitalist. He invested only his own and his family's capital and so could be a particularly flexible and patient investor. He usually explored Silicon Valley solo, lugging a canvas bag stuffed with papers to meet entrepreneurs one-on-one and quiz them gently about their ideas and business plans.
"Although Ed personally directed a very large venture capital investment portfolio, he did it without the usual cadre of MBA underlings," said William Brody, President of the Salk Institute in La Jolla California, president emeritus of Johns Hopkins University and formerly CEO of Resonex, a venture startup. "He did his own due diligence and formed his own judgments."
Mr. Shea often said he "invested in people, before technology." As Bill Hambrecht, co-founder of Hambrecht & Quist noted: "He never ignored the human element in any decision, and was always willing to take a chance on people with character."
Mr. Shea's relationship with Robert A. Kotick, who engineered the turnaround of Activision, the electronic games company, typified his investing style. Although he appreciated Activision's business plan, he was convinced Mr. Kotick and his partner Brian Kelly had the character and ability to make Activision successful.
"When I called him on the phone the day of the closing, he called out to his assistant to pick up the phone, then he said, 'I have to pick up the dry cleaning, then I need to go to the dog groomer and get the dog and, oh, can you wire Bobby Kotick a million and a half dollars,'" Mr. Kotick said. "I'm not sure I was even first on his list that day."
The investment was very successful, as Activision grew into an electronic games giant with a $13-billion market capitalization. He remained close to both young entrepreneurs. "He was one of my mentors," Mr. Kotick added.
Mr. Shea had a long relationship with Hambrecht & Quist and served as a director until shortly before it was acquired by Chase Bank in 1998. Mr. Hambrecht said, "Ed was a great partner of mine in every sense of the word, for over 42 years. He listened with an open mind to almost any idea, but kept a sense of discipline and business judgment that so often became the 'ballast' in our decision process."
In 1958, together with his cousin John F. Shea and his brother Peter O. Shea, Mr. Shea formed J. F. Shea Co., Inc. as a successor to their family's construction business, which their grandfather had begun in 1881 as a plumbing contractor in Portland. The predecessor Shea companies had principal roles in the construction of iconic American public works like the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay Bridges.
During the 1960s and 1970s Mr. Shea personally managed some of J. F. Shea Co.'s most significant construction work, building tunnels—including the Berkeley Hills tunnel—and underground stations for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District and the Washington D.C. Metro systems.
J. F. Shea Construction remains among the country's premier underground contractors. Its active public works projects include two major subway jobs in New York City: the extension of the No. 7 line from Times Square to the Javits Center and the Second Avenue subway. Last year, it completed the last segment of Metropolitan Water District's Inland Feeder Project, a tunnel through the San Bernardino mountains.
During the late 1960s J. F. Shea began a homebuilding business that became Shea Homes in 1974. Since its inception, Shea Homes has built and sold more than 85,000 homes in California, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Nevada, and Florida. Builder magazine in 2008 ranked Shea Homes as the largest for-profit private homebuilder in the United States. The Shea family also owns and operates Shea Properties, which develops, owns and manages commercial real estate including shopping centers, apartments and office buildings in Colorado, Arizona and California.
Edmund Hill Shea, Jr. was born August 15, 1929 in Portland, Oregon. In his early years, he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area where his father supervised the construction work on the piers for the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1935, his family returned to Los Angeles. He graduated from Loyola High School in 1947.
After a year in the Jesuit Novitiate and then at Santa Clara University, he enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering in 1952. He served in the United States Air Force for two years, which included a stint in electrical school. He later credited that experience for giving him the education he needed to appreciate the value of the integrated circuit and other technological innovations that he invested in beginning in the 1970s.
Mr. Shea began work in the construction business in the early 1950s on several reservoir jobs in Southern California in partnership with his cousin John. They moved on to the Hills Creek Diversion tunnel in Oregon and then to the Clear Creek Tunnel, a nine mile tunnel in Northern California that brought water from the Trinity River through mountains to the Whiskeytown Power Plant and reservoir. After the completion of the Clear Creek Tunnel, they began operating their generation's version of J. F. Shea Co., with his brother Peter Shea.
He actively supported all levels of Catholic education from inner-city Catholic elementary schools to the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. He insisted most of his philanthropy remain private since he subscribed to the view that gifts wouldn't qualify as charity if anyone knew about them. He served on boards for Loyola Marymount University and Loyola High School, both in Los Angeles, the Santa Catalina School in Monterey, California and Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena.
In 2001, the UC Irvine Graduate School of Management awarded its Lifetime Achievement Award to Mr. Shea, his brother, and his cousin for "their strong business ethics, leadership, and long-term contributions to the construction, real estate, and property management industries." In 2003, Loyola High School awarded him its Cahalan Award for his outstanding achievements and for remaining true to the Ignatian ideals.
Mr. Shea is survived by his brothers Peter of Newport Beach, and Henry of Stockton, CA and by his sisters Margaret Deneher of Newport Beach, and Mary Elizabeth Callaghan of Los Angeles, by Mary Shea, his wife of 52 years; by six children: Colleen Morrissey of Pacific Palisades; Edmund H. Shea III of Charlotte, NC; Mary McConnell of Pasadena; Kathleen High of San Marino; Timothy T. Shea of Santa Barbara; Ellen Dietrick of Newport Beach; and by 14 grandchildren. His daughter Maureen predeceased him in 1985.
Visitation/Rosary will be Tuesday, August 17, between 5-8 p.m. at St. Andrew's Church, 311 N. Raymond, Pasadena. A funeral mass will be said on Wednesday, August 18, at 3 p.m., also at St. Andrew's Church, followed by a reception.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent in Edmund's name to the Peter Claver Scholarship at Loyola High School (1901 Venice Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90006) or the Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins (http://www.alscenter.org/donate/).
SOURCE J. F. Shea Co., Inc.