Michael Moritz: Cardiff-born billionaire from 'ordinary comprehensive'

Michael Mortiz Michael Moritz started his career as a journalist

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The man who gave a record-breaking £75m donation to Oxford University to help the poorest students may be a billionaire venture capitalist, but he has not forgotten his Welsh roots.

Michael Moritz, 58, went to an "ordinary comprehensive," the now-closed Howardian High School in the Penylan area of Cardiff, and he was the only pupil in his year to go to Oxford.

"I think it is all too easy not to remember those that can be so easily forgotten," he said after making the pledge.

It is thought hundreds of students will benefit from the scholarships now set up thanks to his extraordinary gift.

Moritz, who is chairman of Sequoia Capital, studied history at Christ Church College, Oxford, and graduated in 1976.

He immediately moved to the US where, after a stint working as a journalist for Time magazine, he found his incredible fortune.

In 1986, the father-of-two joined Sequoia Capital and never looked back. The Sunday Times Rich List says he is now worth an estimated £1.08bn.

'Mistakes'

Moritz spotted the potential in, then, little known companies called Google - founded in 1998 - and YouTube, which was bought by Google for $1.65bn (£890m) in 2006.

But he remains modest and previously told BBC Wales: "All you need do is listen to very smart people and sift out the ideas that are unworthy or implausible and I wouldn't pretend for a moment that I hadn't made lots of mistakes and there are companies, perhaps, that we had been investors in.

"I think you try and develop your product and most importantly you need to see if anyone cares about your idea which, said differently in English or in Welsh, you've got to see if there are customers."

In the early days of YouTube, Mortiz gave the founders of video-sharing site rooms at Sequoia's offices as they tackled the challenge of how they could send videos easily.

At the time it amused Moritz that they never made it in to work before lunch.

"Like lots of 20-somethings their days didn't begin until two in the afternoon," he smiled.

Investments have also been made in Apple, PayPal and Yahoo as well as business social networking site LinkedIn which floated last year.

FACTFILE

Michael Moritz (Pic: Oxford University)
  • 1954 born in Cardiff
  • Educated at the former Howardian High School, Penylan, Cardiff until 1973
  • Studied history at Christ Church College, Oxford University
  • On board of directors at Google, Yahoo, PayPal, Time, Time Warner and Sequoia Capital
  • Backed Barack Obama's bid for the White House
  • In 2008 he donated £25m to Christ Church, Oxford

His recipe for business start-ups included trying to imagine what the company will need to grow, the significance of a good relationship with customers, and the "super-critical" importance of recruiting good people in the early days.

He added "the ability to listen to what others are imagining" particularly people who start "little companies who are sometimes able to tell you about the future with great determination and conviction".

But despite having made his fortune through technology, Mortiz confessed: "It's one of my many shortcomings and one of the things I wish I was much better at.

"My undergraduate degree was in history, and I wish I had been smart enough to really excel at maths, physics, chemistry or biology because... the voyagers and adventurers and real contributors - that's where they come from."

In 2007, he told BBC Wales why he left the UK.

"This was at a time in the mid-1970s when all of Britain seemed to be on strike and the lights kept going out and the future seemed rather bleak," he said.

"So I decided to move to America, not ever expecting to be in America more than 30 years later."

'Another planet'

He now lives in San Francisco, California, with his family.

He said the way his life has turned out "sometimes seems like a voyage to another planet" but everything was "familiar" whenever he returned to Cardiff.

And while the US has long been his home, Mortiz said Wales retained "an extremely warm and fond corner in my heart".

"I have a small family here but as the years and seasons move on, inevitably there are fewer people who live here than when I left Howardian High School in 1973," he said.

A 2007 BBC interview as Michael Moritz talked about his roots and spotting investment opportunities like Google

He joked Americans are frequently confused by geography.

"I did have one person say to me some time ago, 'Oh you're from Wales, you really have a Scottish accent'. So people are a little hazy, shall we say, about Wales.

"Is it to the west of London or is it part of Australia, they say."

In May this year, Moritz revealed he had been diagnosed with a "rare medical condition, which can be managed but is incurable".

It has seen him promoted to chairman of Sequoia Capital stepping back from day-to-day works at the company.

However, there is little prospect of him putting his feet up completely.

"I think the notion of retirement is just a dreadful, dreadful idea and I hope I never have to do that," he admitted.

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