In September world business website Forbes.com created a list of the top ten youngest power men in Africa. All are aged 40 and under and all are heavily involved in Africa’s business and political circles.
The man at number two in this list is Mark Richard Shuttleworth. Shuttleworth was born in Welkom, Free State, South Africa in 1973. He studied for a Business Science degree in Finance and Information Systems at the University of Cape Town and has since become a technological guru, a self-made millionaire and one of South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Shuttleworth’s first project was a computing company, Thawte, which dealt with internet security among other things. The company was founded in 1995 and in the early days of business Thawte was run from Shuttleworth’s parents’ house. As Thawte grew it became one of the industry leaders in helping businesses make and accept secure transactions over the web.
In 1999 the American software company VeriSign purchased Thawte from Shuttleworth for a deal reported to be around $575million. From this sale Shuttleworth went on to form the Shuttleworth Foundation and his venture capital company, Here Be Dragons (HBD).
The Shuttleworth Foundation is a non-profit organisation which encourages innovative thinkers to help bring about change in society with a special focus on South Africa. The foundation has worked in all nine provinces of South Africa and has funded teachers, small businesses and private individual ideas among many other projects.
HBD is an investment company that looks to invest in innovative technology companies across South Africa and it now boasts a large portfolio of business partners. The name is reference to the phrase ‘Here Be Dragons’ which was used to describe uncharted territory on ancient maps.
In 2004 Shuttleworth founded Canonical Ltd which dealt with promotion and support of free computer software projects. In the same year he helped in the design and development of the Ubuntu operating system, a free computer system suitable for home desktops and also for heavy industry, mainframe computers. Ubuntu is funded by Canonical who create revenue by offering technical support for a range of Ubuntu platforms. The free Ubuntu operating system is regarded by many critics as a future contender to Microsoft’s market dominance with high-profile customers such as Google and Dell running Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’ and Shuttleworth reflects this meaning by offering the system free of charge. Shuttleworth is heavily involved in designing free operating systems and stepped down as CEO of Canonical in 2010 to be fully involved with designing products and enhancing the free software market. He is now in charge of design and product strategy. Shuttleworth believes that developing countries need to find their voice in the digital era and his drive to produce systems that are ‘beautiful and easy to use’ at no charge proves his commitment to this belief.
If you are not familiar with Mark Shuttleworth through his software developing, free software ecosystems, website certificates and other complicated technologies then you may recognise his name after he became only the second self funded space tourist and the first African in space in 2002. He lived and trained for a year in Star City, Russia before paying around $20million to launch aboard the Soyuz TM-34 mission.
Shuttleworth now lives on the Isle of Man and holds dual citizenship of the UK and South Africa. Canonical’s main offices are in London however they also enjoy bases across the world. He owns a private jet, has an estimated fortune of $269million but donates generously to other charitable besides his own foundation. His commitment to his beliefs, his attention to detail and his strong education make him a brilliant entrepreneur and his wealth and experience make him well worth his spot on the list of top ten youngest powerful men in Africa.