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Five Canadian billionaires who fly under the radar

David Cheriton was an early investor in Google Inc. and it catapulted him into the ranks of Canadian billionaires.

David Paul Morris/Globe and Mail

Most Canadians have heard of the Thomsons, Galen Weston, the Irvings and Jim Pattison. They are Canada's wealthiest people, and they've been at or near the top of the list for years.

But a new crop of billionaires has emerged. They built their wealth on the power of silicon computer chips as technology has blossomed into the largest and fastest growing sector on the stock market.

As stocks have risen to record levels, the corresponding wealth creation has been substantial, says Thane Stenner, who advises some of Canada's wealthiest families and is managing director at Graystone Consulting, a unit of Morgan Stanley International Wealth Management, based in Palo Alto, Calif.

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While much may be known about Canada's "old money," the newer billionaires tend to fly under the radar. Here's a look at five of them.

Garrett Camp, 38

Estimated net worth: $8.5-billion

Mr. Camp's name may not ring a bell for many, but the company he helped build does. "We hear a lot about Uber's ex-chief executive officer – Travis Kalanick – in the media, but it was Canadian-born Mr. Camp, who in 2009 came up with the idea for Uber," says Robin Speziale, author of Market Masters: Interviews With Canada's Top Investors.

At first called UberCab, the business was "a revolutionary on-demand transportation and food delivery technology company that virtually doesn't have any inventory." Mr. Camp put in his own money – about $250,000 (U.S.) – to get the idea off the ground while he was chief executive officer of StumbleUpon, a Web search-engine company he also helped found and then sold to eBay for $75-million.

Today, Uber has spread around the world, changing the way people move, and has an estimated net worth exceeding $60-billion.

"If Uber continues its success, expands internationally and eventually issues an IPO on the market, Mr. Camp could very well be Canada's richest person one day," Mr. Speziale says.

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David Cheriton, 66

Estimated net worth: $6.1-billion

Mr. Cheriton is a computer scientist and mathematician who parlayed those skills into success as a businessman, venture capitalist and philanthropist.

"Clearly many new-found billionaires can attribute their good fortune to the rise of the Internet, and Cheriton is another good example of that," says Joe Hornyak, executive editor of the online magazine Private Wealth Canada. "His track record is astounding, as he co-founded Granite Systems in 1995, which was sold to Cisco [Systems Inc.] 18 months later."

But it was his foresight to become an early investor in Google Inc. that "catapulted him into the ranks of Canadian billionaires," Mr. Hornyak says.

Mr. Cheriton didn't stop there. He has since funded and co-founded a number of successful tech startups and now teaches computer science at Stanford University.

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Joseph Tsai, 52

Estimated net worth: $13.2-billion

Taiwanese-Canadian Joseph Tsai is the co-founder and executive vice-chairman of China's largest e-commerce company, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. It has quickly become a rival to Amazon in emerging markets.

In 1999, Mr. Tsai took a leap of faith, quitting a high-paying job to work for free for a startup in China. That fledgling enterprise grew into Alibaba.

Mr. Speziale adds that because Alibaba has so much potential to grow along with the emerging markets' rapidly expanding middle class, expect Mr. Tsai to move up "the billionaire net worth ladder."

Mark Scheinberg, 43

Estimated net worth: $5.6-billion

Mr. Scheinberg built his fortune as a pioneer in online gambling. The Israeli-born Canadian co-founded with his father Isai – a computer programmer – PokerStars.com in 1999. The venture went on to become the world's largest online poker company.

The road to success hasn't been without bumps, however. PokerStars has been dogged by controversy and legal difficulties. Mr. Scheinberg sold his stake in the firm in 2014 to the Stars Group Inc. (then known as Amaya Gaming) for $4.9-billion .

Mr. Hornyak says the Scheinbergs are similar to the Bronfmans, the wealthy Montreal family who built their fortune on alcohol during U.S. Prohibition. Instead of liquor, however, the Scheinbergs turned "online poker into a global phenomenon."

Now living on the Isle of Man, Mr. Scheinberg largely remains out of the spotlight, though he has reportedly invested in Spain's recovering real estate market. According to Casino News Daily, the younger Scheinberg has a 50-per-cent stake in Centro Canalejas Madrid, a $325-million project aiming to convert historical buildings into a multipurpose development in the heart of the nation's capital.

Jeffrey Skoll, 52

Estimated net worth: $5-billion

Mr. Skoll is another Internet-age pioneer who helped build one of the biggest names in e-commerce: eBay Inc. Though he did not found the San Jose, Calif.-based firm worth about $33-billion , he helped propel it into one of the leading e-commerce portals on the Web today.

Mr. Speziale says the company's founder, Pierre Omidyar, hired Mr. Skoll as his first full-time employee. Later he became president. He is credited with developing and then executing the company business plan that "catapulted eBay from a small garage startup to a successful dot-com company."

Yet even today, Mr. Skoll "is a great unknown to most of us, including those who frequent eBay," Mr. Hornyak says. People are more likely familiar with the Canadian engineer's latest endeavours as a film producer – among his projects are the Oscar-winning Spotlight and An Inconvenient Sequel, the follow up to An Inconvenient Truth.

Money Monitor: Saving beyond a defined pension plan (The Canadian Press)
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