Quoted: Y Combinator's Paul Graham on CEOs with 'strong' foreign accents

“One quality that’s a really bad indication is a CEO with a strong foreign accent. I’m not sure why. It could be that there are a bunch of subtle things entrepreneurs have to communicate and can’t if you have a strong accent. Or, it could be that anyone with half a brain would realize you’re going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven’t gotten rid of their strong accent.”

Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, the Mountain View-based accelerator, is described by Inc. as “brusque.” Graham has called himself “curt,” which he says people perceive as arrogant. But the quote above, in answer to Inc.’s question about how Y Combinator determines which startups to fund, reeks of condescension and prejudice. Would anyone call Andy Grove, the former Intel CEO, clueless? He left Hungary at the age of 20 and eventually made his way to the United States. From the 2006 book “Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American Business Icon”: “Even in his later years, Andy Grove had an accent that could be described as more than merely noticeable.” Yet he taught at Stanford and Berkeley and spoke in public often. Other prominent Silicon Valley people with accents — we’re not sure what Graham considers “strong” — include Vinod Khosla, Sun Microsystems co-founder and now a venture capitalist, Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen, Tesla’s Elon Musk, and a guy named Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google.


Photo: Andy Grove is shown at the Grove Foundation office in Los Altos in 2011. (Nhat V. Meyer/Mercury News)

Levi Sumagaysay Levi Sumagaysay (4265 Posts)

Levi Sumagaysay is editor of the combined SiliconBeat and Good Morning Silicon Valley. She also helps take care of SiliconValley.com, the Mercury News tech website. Email: lsumagaysay@bayareanewsgroup.com