Peter Thiel is famously loyal to his employees, and vice versa. Many of the dozens of people employed by his venture firm, Founders Fund, once worked for Thiel at his hedge fund, Clarium Capital. He even co-founded a late-stage venture firm, Mithril Capital, with one former Clarium managing director, Ajay Royan.
Little wonder then that Thiel is reportedly pulling one principal at Founders Fund — Trae Stephens — into President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, which Thiel himself officially joined two weeks ago. According to Bloomberg, Stephens, who isn’t expected to take a role in the administration, will help shape defense and vet Defense Department staff.
Stephens’s addition to the team seems both peculiar and perfectly unsurprising at once. A comparative studies graduate from Georgetown, Stephens held a couple of internships in Washington as an undergraduate student, then joined LexisNexis as a data analyst for two years, before spending the next five-and-a-half years as an engineer with the Founders Fund-backed analytics company Palantir Technologies. He quit in December 2013 to join Founders Fund.
Stephens may be very smart, in short. But like Thiel and numerous other members of Trump’s transition team — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; his children, Eric, Donald, and Ivanka Trump; hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci; and surgeon Ben Carson (who has been offered a post as head of Department of Housing and Urban Development and is still mulling whether or not to take it) — Stephens lacks any meaningful government experience.
Then again, Thiel has repeatedly suggested that the U.S. government (which accounts for at least 40 percent of Palantir’s revenue) “is broken.” He has advocated for “new politics,” too, so choosing a Washington outsider like himself is hardly a shock.
It also isn’t astonishing that the newest member of Trump’s transition team comes from within one of Thiel’s own companies. Thiel plainly trusts his own hiring abilities, but further, he’s reportedly having a bit of trouble enlisting the help of others in Silicon Valley who operate outside the confines of those circles.
According to a recent Washington Post report, Thiel has been cultivating an “editable list of possible candidates” for Trump’s administration, and on his short list are Blake Masters, who co-authored the business book “Zero to One” with Thiel; Joe Lonsdale, who co-founded Palantir with Thiel; and Jack Abraham, a serial entrepreneur who is executive director of the Thiel Fellowship program.
According to that same Washington Post report, others have turned Thiel down out of distaste over how Trump campaigned and fear that an association with Trump could have repercussions on their own businesses.