E arly on the morning of June 1, 2022, Alex Karp, the CEO of the data-analytics firm Palantir Technologies, crossed the border between Poland and Ukraine on foot, with five colleagues in tow. A pair of beaten-up Toyota Land Cruisers awaited on the other side. Chauffeured by armed guards, they sped down empty highways toward Kyiv, past bombed-out buildings, bridges damaged by artillery, the remnants of burned trucks.
They arrived in the capital before the wartime curfew. The next day, Karp was escorted into the fortified bunker of the presidential palace, becoming the first leader of a major Western company to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky since Russia’s invasion three months earlier. Over a round of espressos, Karp told Zelensky that he was ready to open an office in Kyiv and deploy Palantir’s data and artificial-intelligence software to support Ukraine’s defense. Karp believed they could team up “in ways that allow David to beat a modern-day Goliath.”
In the stratosphere of top tech CEOs, Karp is an unusual figure. At 56, he is a lanky tai chi aficionado with a cloud of wiry gray curls that gives him the air of an eccentric scientist. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from a German university, where he studied under the famous social theorist Jürgen Habermas, and a law degree from Stanford, where he became friends with the controversial venture capitalist and Palantir co-founder Peter Thiel. After Palantir became tech’s most secretive unicorn, Karp moved the company to Denver to escape Silicon Valley’s “monoculture,” though he typically works out of a barn in New Hampshire when he’s not traveling.