David Bohnett was a freshly minted MBA in the early 1980s when he landed a job as a consultant with what was then Anderson Consulting in Los Angeles.
“It was my first job out here, and I loved it,” said the Chicago-born Bohnett, 61, seated among the midcentury modern furnishings in a conference room at the David Bohnett Foundation’s Beverly Hills office.
The Anderson job fit his academic background, combining computer science with business.
“I had a variety of clients, a lot of hands-on systems design,” he said.
Bohnett was promoted within a couple of years and appeared to be on a fast track to the top of the company. Then came a fateful Christmas party that wound up changing the course of his life and career.
“I wanted to bring a same-sex partner, and was told no,” Bohnett said. “It was under the guise of, We’re OK with it, but the clients might not be comfortable.”
So Bohnett left the company he loved, joining a software startup founded by a friend.
“I just couldn’t be who I was and hold that job at the same time,” he said.
After taking other positions in software companies, and suffering the death in 1994 of his long-term life partner, Rand Schrader, of AIDS, Bohnett started his own Santa Monica internet company, GeoCities, which allowed people to set up their own pages and communicate via email and chat rooms. Yahoo Inc. purchased GeoCities during the dot-com boom in 1999 for a reported $3.57 billion, with Bohnett reportedly netting about $300 million in the deal.
“We all have those pivot points in our careers,” he said. “But you never want to feel like you are not wanted, and not accepted, even if things turn out as well as they have.”
He launched his foundation with a $40 million endowment shortly after selling GeoCities, and its conference room reflects his continuing fascination with technology. The founder and managing member of Beverly Hills’ Baroda Ventures, Bohnett decorated the room with his collection of technological firsts: first-generation versions of the transistor radio, Sony Walkman, and iPad, among many others.
Leaving Anderson set him on a course that would define his career – one in which he’s spent much time and money promoting and defending lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. Bohnett called for full marriage equality during a political fundraiser at his L.A. home back in 2000. Among numerous other efforts, he was reportedly the single biggest backer of efforts to stop Proposition 8, a 2008 California initiative that would have restricted marriage to heterosexual couples. The measure passed but was knocked down in federal court.
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