The Silicon Valley couple behind JMU’s largest gift

Focusing on students, Paul Holland (’82) and Linda Yates invest $5 million


SUMMARY: While celebrating the finale of Unleashed: A Campaign for James Madison University, alumnus Paul Holland (’82) and his wife and life partner Linda Yates announced the largest cash gift in the university’s history. Here, they explain why they’re supporting scholarships and how “partnering wisely” has been a key to their success.

Celebrated venture capitalist Paul Holland (’82) is a living illustration of JMU’s hallmark virtue of collaboration. “My simple one-liner for advice,” he says, “is to partner wisely. If you’re fortunate enough to partner wisely and deeply, then you will have a more fulfilling life and more opportunities.” He has lived out this ethic both in business, where he’s known for partnering with iconic CEOs and thought leaders, to his personal life.

“The partnership between Linda Yates and Paul Holland, together, is what is resulting in this gift,” he explains. Together, the Silicon Valley-based couple announced their $5 million investment in October, praising Holland’s Madison roots and saying they want to open doors for others.

Holland's Madison Experience

Holland’s college selection process led him to JMU as a 17-year old freshman. “I had narrowed it down based on academics and location,” he describes the deciding moment. “I toured the campus, and I remember a moment – this beautiful, sunny day with people all over the quad, frisbee and laughter,” he remembers with a smile. “I knew JMU was the place for me.”

His instinct paid off. “When I look at JMU now, it really was the gateway to the rest of my life. First was academic maturation, and I think JMU did a very good job there. The second, which I believe is more important, was social maturation--the notion of being able to go there and grow as a person. That’s where JMU excels, where it surpasses other schools.”

Not one for down time, Holland took advantage of every opportunity while a student. He double majored in public administration and political science, pledged Sigma Nu, played intramural sports and served as the inaugural vice-president of the Public Administration Society. During summer, he worked all kinds of jobs from building roads around Harrisonburg to serving at Dukes Grill, and even joined his buddies on the crew of a North Carolina scallop fishing boat, Amazing Grace. 

On his dad’s advice, he tacked on a minor in business, which turned out to be critical. “Developing business acumen was so important. The world is full of entrepreneurial types like me – artistic entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs – but they do other things because they're starved for the business discipline and experience. JMU is where I got the building blocks I needed.”

California dreamin’

After Holland graduated from JMU, he set out for Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, where he got a graduate degree in International Relations. There he met Yates, a talented undergraduate on her way to earning a degree in the same field.  Linda asked Paul to come visit her in California, where he has lived for the past 38 years.

“I had ambition and education, but not a really strong direction, until I followed a girl to California.” Transplanted to Silicon Valley (now the world-famous home base for Google, Facebook, Netflix and others), Yates’ family introduced him to their friends. “I instantly got a taste for these west coast personalities,” Holland recalls. “I had stumbled into sales jobs because of my personality, and then on the weekends Linda and I used to throw these great parties at her parents’ house, barbecue and a pool, just getting to know people.” It was at one of those parties that while sitting in a hot tub, a mutual friend introduced him to Reed Hastings, which led to Holland’s entrepreneurial career. 

Becoming an entrepreneur

As Holland developed his career in the Silicon Valley, he helped two talented founder CEOs build two of the most successful software companies of that era. The first was Pure Software where he partnered with Hastings, who later became famous as founder and CEO of Netflix. The second was Kana Communications, where he worked with Mark Gainey and Michael Horvath, better known today as the founders of Strava. Pure and Kana eventually generated over $12 billion in market capitalization. Later Paul was recruited to Foundation Capital, a top tier firm in the Silicon Valley that has taken $5 billion of investor and partner capital and generated over $750 billion in market value by investing in companies like Netflix, Chegg, MobileIron, SunRun and many other successful IPOs.  

Yates began her career at Smith Barney and after earning a graduate degree at Stanford University, she became the youngest head of the West Coast for the MAC Group, a strategy consulting house.  Later, at 32 years old, she was founder and CEO of Strategos, the first global growth consultancy where she partnered with leading strategists Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad.  After Strategos, Yates was recruited to the board of NYSE-traded Sybase, where she helped drive the company stock price from $3 to $65, and the eventual $6 billion acquisition of Sybase by SAP.  Yates was nominated by Hastings for the Crown Fellowship at the Aspen Institute. She later founded (at her kitchen table) Mach49, The Growth Incubator for the Global 1000.  Today Mach49 employs over 200 people on five continents and was recently valued at $300 million.  She is the author of The Unicorn Within, recently published by Harvard Business Review Press.

Today, Holland is the managing director of Venture Investing at Mach49, where he works for Yates, the founder and CEO. He credits JMU with preparing him to jump into multiple business fields and always hit the ground running: “When I left JMU, I was academically prepared and socially adept enough for any adventure I encountered,” he says.

Yates has also become a fan of JMU over the years. “When you’re walking around at James Madison, you literally feel like you’re in a top tier global educational institute,” she says. “We’ve also hosted multiple students over the years, who’ve literally lived in our home for a week, and we’ve set them up to tour Silicon Valley and to meet with top companies here.” She’s been impressed: “Every single JMU student and alumnus, every one of them is inclusive, they’re welcoming… they’re a ton of fun. There’s a reason JMU is considered one of the happiest universities on the planet, and I get to see that every day getting to live with Paul. Being able to be part of the JMU family has been very meaningful to me.”

Holland Yates Hall: Gateway to JMU, passport to the world

The Holland Yates gift also renames Madison Hall, which is visited by more than 60,000 prospective students each year and serves as home to the Office of Admissions and The Center for Global Engagement. That’s fitting as their investment provides scholarships for student recruitment and for study abroad—as well as entrepreneurship. 

“We are proud to add our name to such an important centerpiece on a beautiful campus,” Holland says. “I’m an optimist, I’m a globalist, and I’m an idealist; We are investing in entrepreneurship and global immersion opportunities as two key areas that have made a difference in our own lives.” 

Both Holland and Yates have lived and worked in more than 74 countries. Now, they are providing study abroad scholarships for JMU undergraduates, an opportunity they believe is critical for current and future generations: “I think young people need the overseas experience, outside of our American bubble, to view the world accurately. Exposure to people, on a person-to-person level, will not only help them see how the world works but also make them more understanding and more successful,” he says. “All of America benefits from more people having that chance earlier in their lives.”

Yates believes Madison graduates will be better equipped to look at the “big hairy problems” of our world – climate change, sustainability, water, disease, racism, poverty – because of their travels. “We hope to give them the opportunity to reach out, to really address those big problems and make a difference,” she says. “I can’t wait to see the pictures that are going to line the walls in that building as these kids go abroad and show what their experiences are like.”

Giving for future Pauls and Lindas

Another piece of the Holland Yates gift is a scholarship endowment for students minoring in entrepreneurship. Holland says he appreciates how JMU’s minor is not limited to business students but open across all academic disciplines: “There’s a certain type of person that comes out of a hard-core business school, and then there’s a certain type of person that is still entrepreneurial but is coming from a background of liberal arts, performance arts and other areas,” he explains. “Linda and I believe that, in the coming decades, there will be dozens more Pauls and Lindas, drawing from current and future students at James Madison University. These scholarships will be extremely critical for those students.”

“By getting more and more students focused on entrepreneurship,” Yates adds, “either inside large companies or with startups, this is very important to help improve the world. We’ve been incredibly blessed, and I truly believe that we are meant to channel our gifts, not to keep them for ourselves.”

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Published: Friday, October 21, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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