Fortunes 2020: Pierre Omidyar, Chairman, Ebay

The founder of eBay devotes his time and money to the fight against poverty as well as misinformation on the internet.

The founder of eBay devotes his time and money to the fight against poverty as well as misinformation on the internet.


Pierre Omidyar made a name for himself thanks to eBay, a company he founded in the 1990s. This Franco-Iranian now American by adoption puts his considerable resources at the service of others. Convinced that with openness, innovation, talent and timing, they can move mountains, Pierre and his wife Pamela have set up various organizations to fully maximize their philanthropic potential.

Changing the world, one click at a time
The Omidyar Network, the Omidyar Foundation and Hopelab provide support for projects, whether charitable or otherwise. "If we want to change the world, why limit our action to the not-for-profit sector? Why ignore the private sector?", explained eBay founder a few years back. The Paris-born entrepreneur invests through the Omidyar Network fund in MicroVest bank, which focuses on providing access to finance for the neediest.

Another project targeting disadvantaged populations: in 2017, Pierre Omidyar invested $493,000 in a universal income experiment in Kenya. And as the pandemic continues to shake up economies, leaders of multi-nationals are keen to make a more positive impact on society. Hence a report published in the summer of 2020 by the Omidyar Network that calls for a reimagining of capitalism. For its part, the organization will devote $35 million to reach its goal.

Go west, my son
The millions that Pierre Omidyar, 53, can now give to his projects are the result of an entrepreneurial adventure that began in the United States when, in 1973, his father, a doctor in physics, left France to take up a chair at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. His son would go on to graduate in computer science from Tufts University. After taking his first steps in working life at Claris, an Apple subsidiary, he founded Eshop, an e-commerce platform with friends, that he would sell to Microsoft.

In the early days of their life together Omidyar’s wife, Pamela, a biologist by training, shared a hobby with her hubby: they collected Pez candy dispensers. In order to allow the couple to exchange these little plastic novelty items, Pierre designed a program allowing people to bid on a Pez and to gather online as a community.

"In order to battle disinformation, Omidyar founded First Look Media and attracted the American journalist Glenn Greenwald, most known for having published Edward Snowden’s revelations, to run it" 

Collectors got caught up in the Pez exchange game and use of the platform took off. Building on this success, the engineer launched Auction Web in 1995, an auction site which collected commissions on operations, and which would be renamed eBay two years later, in reference to the San Francisco bay where Pierre Omidyar now lived.

It was a complete success and in 1998 the company went public: at the age of 31, its founder, who had given the reins to Meg Whitman a few months earlier, became a billionaire. "I wanted to create a safe business that could last forever," he confided to Journal du Net in 2000.

Battling misinformation
If Pierre Omidyar is a reserved man, he is also a fervent defender of transparency, especially on the internet. In 2013, in order to battle disinformation, this self-confessed "hater of forums with anonymous members" founded First Look Media and attracted the American journalist Glenn Greenwald, most known for having published Edward Snowden’s revelations.

The new vocation of the founder of eBay stands in sharp contrast to Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, who were called to testify before congress last year to answer allegations that Twitter and Facebook were breeding grounds for misinformation on the internet.
Omidyar has proven himself rich in spirit as well as in money.

 

Read the full Special Report: Fortunes 2020

Covid ravaged the world economy in 2020, but as our Fortunes rankings prove, it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
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