Billion-Dollar Tech Babies

The technology sector is known for generating quick and copious wealth. So, where are B.C.’s tech billionaires?

Tech Billionaires | BCBusiness
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg epitomizes how quickly technology can generate wealth.

The technology sector is known for generating quick and copious wealth. So, where are B.C.’s tech billionaires?

No industry in the history of capitalism has generated great wealth faster than the technology industry. In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg was a pimply faced, slightly spoiled undergraduate student.  Today he is a pimply faced, mostly spoiled billionaire ($13.5 billion, according to the latest Forbes list). Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google co-founders) are still under 40 and worth $20 billion each. Fifteen years ago they were graduate students who were really, really good at math.

The Silicon Valley is rife with billionaires other than the three already mentioned (Larry Ellison, the Steve Jobs estate, Eric Schmidt, Pierre Omidyar, Jerry Yang, Mark Cuban and Dustin Moskovitz, just to name a few). Seattle has Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, who have built up Microsoft since the late 1970s. The new guy, Jeff Bezos, built his $8-billion pile in less than 17 years. The technology business has been very good to many people in the Bay Area and Seattle for the better part of three decades.

In Canada, we have two technology guys who might not be billionaires for very much longer: Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, the founders, or should I say flounders, of Research In Motion.

In B.C., we had a technology billionaire … for about 3.5 days. Glenn Ballman was CEO of, ( which went public in March 2000. Like many paper dotcom billionaires in that time period, his wealth was fleeting.

B.C. has generated a few captains of other industries who, over many years or over generations, have built personal worth of more than $1 billion. Most of these individuals are very familiar: Jim Pattison (diversified); Robert Friedland (mining); Chip Wilson (Retail); Brandt Louie (retail); Bob Gaglardi (real estate development); and Richard Li (diversified).

As an aside, David Cheriton is a billionaire from B.C. who made his fortune in technology. But he did so mostly as an investor living in California, where he was a Stanford professor. Larry and Sergey were sitting on his porch when he and Andy Bechtolsheim made the first angel investment in Google. Nice one, David. (

If technology creates wealth quicker than even the strike-it-rich mining industry, then where are the B.C. technology billionaires? Yes, it takes a lot of value creation in a business to leave a minority shareholder enough to still be a billionaire. If a B.C. founder ended up owning 20 per cent of their company when it went public, the company would have to be valued at $5 billion for there to be a local tech billionaire. Just for comparison, Westport Innovations is our largest homegrown technology company currently, and it has a market capitalization of $1.7 billion.

While the current dogpile on RIM is perhaps deserved, I still envy Waterloo and the incredible talent magnet and wealth creator they have in their back yard. For B.C. to have some tech billionaires, we have to create a company global in scope and dominant in its market.

Don’t scoff, people. Chip Wilson did it with lululemon in retail and it’s not like he had any predecessor companies to look up to locally. If technology creates billionaires faster than any other industry, then we shouldn’t have too long to wait!