A Billionaire’s Story
Henry Nicholas III
Net Worth: $4.3 Billion
Wealth Origin: Broadcom
Place of Birth: Cincinnati, Ohio
Education: Bachelor of Arts/Science, University of California, Los Angeles; Doctorate, University of California, Los Angeles; Master of Science, University of California, Los Angeles
Henry Nicholas III was born about 1959 in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father, Henry Nicholas Jr, was an attorney for the IRS while his mother, Marcella Nicholas Leach, took on various roles within the Princeton City School District including teacher, administrator, and theater instructor.
Note: Henry Nicholas Jr goes by “Tom” and Henry Nicholas III goes by “Nick.”
A Broken Home
In a Los Angeles Times article, Nick says he’s the son of a “brilliant attorney who was an alcoholic. [My father] used to be fairly abusive to my mother.” When he was four his mother finally decided she had had enough, packed Tom’s bags, and begged him to leave the family through the kitchen as “Nicky” played with toys in their front room.
Marcella says, “He walked out the front door. I remember Nicky running after him crying, ‘Daddy, daddy, where are you going?'”
With the help of friends and family, Marcella managed to survive with Nick and his sister Marcy until she received $5,000 in academic grant money. At which point, she loaded up a U-Haul with what little belongings they had, quit her job, and moved her family to California where she’d study journalism at UCLA.
Tom later died of cancer in 1985.
Growing Up in Los Angeles
Marcella soon remarried to Hollywood screenwriter and journalist Robert Leach. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, spending most of his time in the South Pacific and ultimately rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. After being released from active duty in 1946 he returned to his home of Los Angeles, met another sailor looking for war stories that could make for a good film, and so his writing career began.
The new unit moved into a small home in Malibu. Needless to say, Leach was one of the most stable proponents of Nick’s young life. He credits his stepfather with nurturing his passion for science by helping him set up his first real chemistry lab.
His love for science was apparent from an early age, in the seventh grade he once wrote for a school assignment, “If I had a job as a nuclear physicist, I wouldn’t get as much as Howard Hughes, but I would get enough to support an average family of six.”
Nick graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1977. He immediately enrolled in the United States Air Force Academy with aspirations of being a fighter pilot. Pardon the pun but those aspirations were shot down because he had grown to a lengthy six feet six inches!
Ultimately forced to drop out of the program, he explains, “They wouldn’t let me fly fighter jets. Too tall.” Adding, “I left and got my degrees at UCLA. It’s the one time in my life I feel that I failed.”
By 1982, Nicholas graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. In 1985 he received a master’s degree and later in 1998 earned a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering.
As far as extracurriculars, he was a member of the UCLA rowing team. This would ultimately inspire his generation donation of $1.28 million to UCI’s crew team in 1999. The University held a press conference to thank the-then Billionaire for his gift that was the largest the school’s athletic program had ever seen.
A Pull-Up Contest
While speaking at the gathering, which took place along the glittering Newport, Califonia coast, Nicholas challenged the rowing team to a pull-up contest, claiming, “I bet I could do more pull-ups than some of you.” People somewhat laughed at his assertion.
Nicholas was serious though, he said he’d add $1,000 to the donation for every pull-up a student could do more than him, adding, “remember, I’m an old man.” He was all of 40 years old at the time. The skeptical 21-year-old crew captain, Al Boloorian stepped forward, accepting the billionaire’s challenge.
In standard three-piece suit attire, Nicholas proceeded to take off each article of clothing, slowly revealing he was more fit than most would assume. The Los Angeles Times remembers, “Muscles bulged everywhere, a body builder’s physique hiding beneath the tailored suit.”
The pull-up contest began, Boloorian managed a respectable 11 before dropping. Nicholas continued to a surprising total of 27! The LA Times describes what happened next, “Nicholas shook Boloorian’s hand, smiled graciously at the college student and accepted the crowd’s adulation with a quiet modesty.”
A bit quirky in nature, Nicholas had asked for only one thing in exchange for that incredible donation, a pull-up contest with one of the college athletes that’d preferably take place in front of a crowd.
After graduating from UCLA, Nicholas got a job as an engineer at TRW in Redondo Beach. This is where he met fellow Bruin alum and future business partner Henry Samueli. Samueli would later leave the company when his alma mater offered him his dream job of being a professor. He’d teach electrical engineering at the University.
While at TRW, Nicholas also met his to-be wife Stacey. A Forbes article notes him saying, “Stacey’s one of the smartest engineers who ever worked for me. She’s very, very detailed-oriented, far more than I am. I was born dyslexic.”
Nicholas and Stacy tied the knot in 1987.
On April 18th, 1985 the Los Angeles Times ran the headline “Point Dume Man Found Guilty of Murdering His Former Girlfriend.” The victim, Marsalee, was an award-winning equestrian, a model, excited to finish her last quarter at UC Santa Barbara and she was Nick’s sister.
Kerry Conley once lamented to his friend “I should blow her head off” after one telephone altercation with his girlfriend, Marcy. He then got drunk, invited her to his home, and did so with a .410-gauge shotgun.
Marcella, Nicholas, and Robert were devastated but didn’t sit still. The family mobilized to pass California’s proposition 9, known as Marcy’s Law; a crime victim’s bill of rights. Nicholas has poured millions of his own dollars to expand victim’s rights in all 50 states. See their website marcyslaw.us
In 1988 Samueli was a part-time consultant for PairGain. He convinced Nicholas to leave TRW and take on a role as the manager of an integrated circuits team at the company. The LA Times notes, “Nicholas, with his hyper-aggressive management style, and PairGain, with its slower-paced corporate culture, came to a philosophical standoff that ended unpleasantly.”
Driven by an insane work-ethic, Nicholas became frustrated with the company. PairGain also began to believe Samueli and Nicholas had alternative personal agenda’s. This was true, both in the labs at UCLA and the facilities of PairGain, the duo was engineering a revolutionary technology that would be used by EVERYBODY…YES, that includes YOU!
A source from the company says he was “reprimanded for doing outside work.” Adding, “He had other interests and he started to pursue them on PairGain’s time. Whether they were part of PairGain’s agenda or his engineers’ agenda, it didn’t matter.”
Nicholas proclaims “Henry [Samueli] begged me to play nice with PairGain. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. There were a lot of hard feelings all around.”
He quit his job to launch Broadcom. Their roles between each other began taking shape. Henry the good cop, Nick the bad cop.
The duo’s side-project turned out to be a networking chip which became the basis for TV and then internet (WiFi) modems. Not to get into the intricate details of Broadcom’s technologies, however, it basically looks as though the majority of the civilized world has used and benefited from a number of their projects. Yes, YOU TOO!
Samueli famously claims they were pulled into the market after tech companies got ahold of the research papers he published while a professor at UCLA. He says, “All of a sudden I started getting phone calls from engineers in the industry saying ‘boy, this would be perfect for the project I’m working on. Have you ever thought of commercializing this technology?”
As the relationship with PairGain began to dwindle and demand grew, Nicholas opted to launch Broadcom out of his Redondo Beach apartment. They each invested $5,000 into starting the company.
In Nick’s own words, “We essentially invented cable modems. They might be manufactured and sold by Motorola or Scientific America, but inside it’s essentially a single Broadcom chip.” With this came a constant flow of orders to the point that the company never needed to raise investment capital. Instead, they relied on strategic partnerships.
The rapid adoption of cable television and WiFi networks combined with their exclusive possession of such tech to make these services possible variably drove rapid growth.
Nicholas and Samueli never planned on starting a company. They were never really motivated by money either. They simply sought avenues in life which could fulfill their love for electrical engineering.
Samueli reflects on their epic success, “Did we predict that that was gonna happen, no! We had no idea that that was gonna happen. It was just fortuitous timing. We happened to have the right technology…luck and timing play a huge role in the success of most entrepreneurs.”
“Once you’re here, failure is not an option,” Nicholas says. “You’re going to be here until midnight. You’re going to work long hours. We have a culture that sometimes can appear to be abusive.”
Vahid Manian, Broadcom’s 27th employee, adds, “Nick is the type of person who, if he’s not driving a hundred miles an hour with his hair on fire, he’s not happy.”
“I could go in and be a big cheerleader and make everyone feel good about themselves and have a fabulous time,” Nicholas says. “But for [all of ] us to have expended all that time away from our families–all that time of our lives which can never be reclaimed–and to not have that chip design in and to not win would be a failure.”
Why Do Employees Stay?
“The work is amazing, probably some of the best I’ll ever do,” says one Broadcom employee who requested anonymity. “But the stock keeps us here.”
While executive salaries are not quite on par with fellow tech giants, Broadcom generously compensates its employees with stock options. In addition, they gain a sense of fulfillment from their work in knowing they’re on the cutting edge of technology, working with the best of the best, and are having a definite impact on the world.
Wife Leaves Him
While most everyday people desperately attempt to juggle a decent work-life balance, Nicholas plunged headfirst into his work – which may have cost him his family.
More work translated to less time for family. Greater success introduced a faster lifestyle, fast cars, fast women, and stronger drugs. All of which, Nicholas readily indulged in.
Lack of quality family time got to the point where he stepped down as head of Broadcom in 2003 in order to save his marriage via therapy. It didn’t work out, Nick ended up spending most of his time off with his children. Stacy filed for divorce in 2006; leaving the billionaire for good.
Investigations into criminal activity at Broadcom sparked just as Stacey began the divorce process. The courtroom became Nick’s second home. The Securities and Exchange Commission believed there was illegal activity concerning the backdating of stock options issued to company executives.
Nicholas, Samueli, and others were ultimately exonerated of all charges, however, the damage was already done to Nick’s reputation. Attorney’s leveled wild accusations in order to drag him in the media and hopefully generate a guilty plea as a result of the mounting public scrutiny.
Rumors including and not limited to a sex dungeon existing beneath his Newport Beach mansion, a habit of spiking prospective business partners drinks and enticing them with scanty women, and Nicholas himself being a drug kingpin of sorts rank amongst the most entertaining.
Addressing the Rumors
“It was much crazier than what you’ve read,” says someone who partied with Nick. Objectively speaking, there is likely a grain of truth within most accusations leveled against him. For example, the “sex dungeon” some bring up is really a Pirate’s of the Carribean-Esque mancave he built for his kids and any other kind of downtime.
He does dabble in recreational drug use and at times does purchase large quantities for parties. A career as a drug lord seems a bit far off considering he already has more money than most drug lords. Check out this readily available video posted by the Orange County Register.
Sure he probably knows some prostitutes too. It comes with the territory! His territory at least. Not to say that any of this is right or okay, in reality, it’s not.
But can you really blame the guy that grew up with a drunk of a father who abused his mother then walked out on them, that experienced his only sibling get her face blown out by a shotgun, and who despite all of that worked tirelessly to create technology that all mankind benefits from…can you really blame the guy for needing to take a load off?
Now there are an unlimited number of ways he can go about cleansing his mind outside of the illegal. In all honesty, Nicholas is a deeply troubled man who needs help. Instead of trying to tear him down with our own self-righteous judgments, we should be encouraging him to get better. Imagine how much more good he can do.