The Entrepreneurial Engineer: The Early Years of Terry Matthews

You might not know him by name, but this entrepreneur has started up almost 100 companies and, as Wales' first billionaire, is richer than even Prince Charles. An engineer by training, Terry Matthews became Wales' richest man by fixing and building things ever since he was young. What started as $4000 in capital and a "long, long holiday" has since become one of the greatest examples of successful serial entrepreneurship in the world. Terry Matthews was born with dual British-Canadian nationality on June 6, 1943 in Gwent, Wales, where he spent the rest of his childhood. As a boy, Matthews would enjoy taking cars to pieces and building small electric motors. He was curious to see how much he could put together on his own. When he found a four-leaf clover in the field behind a local Wesleyan chapel, Matthews says he knew he was going to be lucky in life. Indeed, he would later rename his international investment company that focuses on high tech ventures, Wesley Clover. Matthews would frequently choose corporate names that reflected his south Wales origins, including Cross Keys, Newbridge and Newport.

Matthews received a Higher National Certificate in mechanical and electrical engineering in London, followed by an honours degree in electronics from the University of Wales, Swansea in 1969. He is also currently a fellow of the Institute of Electrical Engineers and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Matthews' professional career began as a trainee in the Post Office Research Station in London, but he quickly moved up in the ranks. In 1969, he moved over to Microsystems International in Canada, where he worked for the next three years as an electronics engineer.

But Matthews' trip to Canada was supposed to be nothing more than a "long, long holiday," he says. Indeed, while his trip was certainly for vacation, he wound landing a job and staying. After three years with Microsystems, Matthews' decided to venture off on his own.

Alongside business partner and fellow British expatriate Michael Cowpland, Matthews borrowed $4,000 and founded Advanced Networking Devices. He had no business plan to speak of, but was convinced he had an idea worth putting on the market. The pair also wanted to raise seed money for future enterprises they were planning. Six months later, he changed the company's name to Mitel. While some believe Mitel stands for "Mike and Terry's Electric Lawnmowers" - after their first, failed product - Cowpland insists it stands for "Mike and Terry Electronics."

Whatever the origins of its name, Mitel was one of the very first high-tech start-up companies in Canada. He turned what could have been any ordinary vacation into the beginnings of a stream of almost 100 successful telecommunications companies over 40 years. At the same time, he had become a technology consultant to various companies in Canada's emerging high-tech community, including the National Research Council, the Communications Research Centre, and a number of innovative startups. He was building a thorough network of contacts to draw on when his own startup could finally be realized.

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