Thomas Perkins, the co-founder of venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers who provided early financing to technology giants such as Google Inc., Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc., has died. He was 84.

He died Tuesday at his home in Tiburon, California, following a long illness, the New York Times reported, citing an assistant to the executive who the newspaper didn’t identify.

The Harvard Business School graduate left his job at Hewlett-Packard Co. to establish Menlo Park, California-based Kleiner Perkins with Austrian-born engineer Eugene Kleiner in 1972. Opening with $8 million and later joined by Frank Caufield and Brook Byers as partners, the firm invested in tech companies over the next two decades, leading to the Silicon Valley boom that ushered in the Internet Age.

Perkins coupled his investing with an active management role in the enterprises he helped to finance. He was an early supporter of the biotechnology industry, serving as chairman at Genentech Inc. for 15 years, and was on the board of Tandem Computers Inc., Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer Corp.

Entrepreneurial VC

“Tom was a pioneer in the venture capital industry,” Caufield and Byers said Thursday in an e-mailed statement. “He defined what we know of today as entrepreneurial venture capital by going beyond just funding to helping entrepreneurs realize their visions with operating expertise.”

Hewlett-Packard helped turn Northern California’s Silicon Valley into a major technology hub and remained a constant presence in Perkins’s life. He guided the company in the 1960s to the advent of minicomputers, refrigerator-size machines that began to take market share from larger mainframes; learned the venture-capital trade from co-founder David Packard; and joined the board after helping engineer its $18.9 billion purchase of Compaq in 2002. After a year’s retirement, Perkins returned in 2005, only weeks before Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina was fired in a boardroom tussle over the company’s post-merger strategy.

Board Games

In her 2006 memoir, “Tough Choices,” Fiorina described how she was “appalled by the reemergence of Tom Perkins and the very active role he was clearly playing” while her board colleagues displayed “an irrational urgency” to reinstate him.

“I believed that I had been brought back to the board -- the warhorse -- to stiffen everyone’s resolve, and if Carly wouldn’t budge on at least some of the changes the board sought, to take decisive action to find a new CEO,” Perkins wrote in “Valley Boy,” his 2007 book.