A self-made billionaire by the age of 25, Mark Shuttleworth has gone on to do some amazing things with his vast fortune. The South African first shared his money with his staff, then was the second self-financed space tourist. Back on earth he continues to share, but now it’s his communications savvy, for free. What led Shuttleworth to his current position?
Born in South Africa’s Orange Free State in 1973, Shuttleworth was given a perfectly grounded childhood by his nursery school teacher mom and surgeon father. Mark attended some prestigious schools in Cape Town – Rondebosch Boys and Western Province Preparatory – which were his stepping stones to the University of Cape Town where Shuttleworth earned a Business Science degree in Information Systems and finance.
It was during his time at University of Cape Town that Mark’s passion for the digital world became apparent. He was hugely involved in the university’s first internet communication installation.
In 1995 Mark founded Thawte, the company that made him his billions. Specialising in internet security and digital certificates, Thawte was sold to the American VeriSign in 1999 for a cool $575 million. It was widely reported in the press that just after Mark sold Thawte, he gave each of his staff members R1 million each. With a small staff contingency, Shuttleworth ensured that everyone from the tea girl and gardener to his assistant were included in Thawte’s success.
After making enough money to see him through several lifetimes, Mark Shuttleworth took a short holiday…to space. He was the first African in space, and the second space tourist. After spending preparation time in Russia, Shuttleworth took off to the space station. For nine days he floated about in a tube and assisted the researchers and astronauts with their studies of earth matter in space. That’s a pretty interesting holiday. It’s not exactly fun in the sun, but it is fun and much closer to the sun than most of us will ever get.
Once back on earth, Mark set about embarking on new business ventures. He started a Canonical Ltd which was set up for the sole purpose of administeringcommercial support and promotion of free software. The man wants to give software away for free. Shuttleworth cannot explain when the venture will start making money but as a venture capitalist, he must know what he’s doing.
As one of the richest men in South Africa, Mark Shuttleworth lives on the Isle of Man and spends his time working on Ubuntu, his foundation, his new ventures, opening new companies and funding up-and-coming businesses. The world needs more people like Mark Shuttleworth.
Vida Denning is a freelance writer who was researching prominent figures looking for office space Zurich when she came across the story of the remarkable South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth.