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Supply Chain Guru Emerges as a Valley Mr. Fixit

As an investor and board member at GoPro, the camera-maker that recently filed for an IPO, Michael Marks has been busy: He brought in his friend Terry Gou, the chief executive of Apple supplier Foxconn, as a key investor, handpicked top managers with expertise in manufacturing and supply chain management and offered operational advice to founder Nicholas Woodman on almost every aspect of the business.

He’s acted, in short, as more of a hands-on manager than a typical investor or board member, one who aims to bring the expertise he gained as the long-time chief executive of Flextronics to Silicon Valley companies that can be long on vision and short on operational brilliance.

Getting into the weeds on mundane but critical functions has made Mr. Marks, 63, something of a stealth success story as a private equity and venture capital investor. He's taken stakes in all sorts of businesses—a chain of grilled cheese sandwich shops and California real estate included—but he’s put much of his time and money into low-margin companies where effectively managing tough operational issues is the difference between profitability and bankruptcy.

GoPro, Flextronics, Zappos and Tesla Motors have all enjoyed—or, depending on where you sit, suffered—the Marks treatment. And he now appears well positioned to seize opportunities in semiconductors and other physical goods at a time when most tech investors are obsessed with software and services.

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“It’s always harder for hardware and consumer electronics to raise money because there are two big players, Apple and Samsung, that everyone fears,” Mr. Marks says. “But none of your phones, tablets or small carry-anywhere computers existed 10 years ago. ‘Wearables’ really just means ‘tiny computer’ and that trend is here to stay. Someday we’ll put sensors into dogs and kids. And it’ll take a new set of components and processors to make this stuff work.”

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“No one would dispute that we needed Michael to scale,” said one GoPro investor.