Terence Thomas Kevin O'Leary (born 9 July 1954) is a Canadian businessman and television and radio personality. He co-founded O'Leary Funds and SoftKey. He previously served as a commentator on Canada's CBC Television and CBC News Network programme The Lang and O'Leary Exchange and hosted Redemption Inc. He is an investor on the ABC reality television series Shark Tank and was also an investor on CBC Television's Dragons' Den.
O'Leary co-founded SoftKey Software Products, a technology company that sold software geared toward family education and entertainment. During the late 1980s and 1990s, SoftKey acquired rival companies such as Compton's New Media, The Learning Company and Brøderbund. SoftKey later changed its name to The Learning Company and was acquired by The Mattel Toy Company in 1999, with the sale making O'Leary a multimillionaire. O'Leary was later fired by Mattel after the acquisition resulted in significant losses and multiple shareholder lawsuits.
Early life and education
O'Leary was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the son of Georgette (née Bukalam), a small-business owner and investor, and Terry O'Leary, a salesman. His father was Irish, and his mother was of Lebanese descent.
O'Leary's parents divorced when he was a child, and his father died shortly thereafter. After his father's death, O'Leary's mother ran the business as an executive. His mother later married an economist who worked with the UN's International Labour Organization. His stepfather's international assignments caused the family to move frequently, and O'Leary lived in many places while growing up, including Cambodia, Tunisia, and Cyprus. O'Leary attended Quebec schools Stanstead College and St. George's School.
O'Leary's mother was a skilled investor, investing a third of her weekly paycheque in large-cap, dividend-paying stocks and interest-bearing bonds, ultimately achieving high returns in her investment portfolio. She kept her investment portfolio secret, so O'Leary only discovered his mother's skill as an investor after her death, when her will was executed. Many of his investment lessons came from his mother, including the admonition to save one-third of his money.
After graduating from Nepean High School in Ottawa, he studied for two years at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean.
O'Leary had aspired to become a photographer, but on the advice of his stepfather attended university, where he continued to develop his interest in business and investing. He received an honours bachelor's degree in environmental studies and psychology from the University of Waterloo in 1977 and an MBA in entrepreneurship from the Ivey Business School at The University of Western Ontario in 1980.
In 1979, between the first and second years of his MBA program, O'Leary was selected for an internship at Nabisco in downtown Toronto, and then worked as an assistant brand manager for Nabisco's cat food brand. O'Leary credits his later success at The Learning Company to the skills he developed in marketing during his days at Nabisco.
After leaving Nabisco, O'Leary began a brief career as a television producer. With two of his former MBA classmates, Scott Mackenzie and Dave Toms (both of whom had assisted on O'Leary's MBA documentary), O'Leary co-founded Special Event Television (SET). SET was an independent television production company that produced original sports programming such as The Original Six, Don Cherry's Grapevine and Bobby Orr and the Hockey Legends. The company achieved limited success with minor television shows, soccer films, sports documentaries, and short in-between-period commercials for local professional hockey games. One of his partners later bought out his share of the venture for $25,000.
After selling his share of SET, O'Leary started Softkey in a Toronto basement in 1986, along with business partners John Freeman and Gary Babcock. The company was a publisher and distributor of CD-ROM-based personal computer software for Windows and Macintosh computers. A major financial backer who had committed $250,000 in development capital to the company backed out the day before signing the documents and delivering his cheque, which left O'Leary looking for funding to support the fledgling business. He used the proceeds from the sale of his share of SET and convinced his mother to lend him $10,000 in seed capital to establish SoftKey Software Products.
The software and personal-computer industries were growing rapidly in the early 1980s, and O'Leary convinced printer manufacturers to bundle Softkey's program with their hardware. With distribution assured, the company developed a number of educational software products focused on mathematics and reading education. Softkey products typically consisted of software intended for home users, especially compilation discs containing various freeware or shareware games packaged in "jewel-case" CD-ROMs.
Softkey weathered stiff competition from other software companies in the late 1980s and prospered throughout the 1990s. By 1993, Softkey had become a major consolidator in the educational software market, acquiring rivals such as WordStar and Spinnaker Software. In 1995, Softkey acquired The Learning Company (TLC) for $606 million, adopting its name, and moved its headquarters to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
TLC lost $105 million (US) in 1998 on revenues $800 million and suffered losses over the previous two years. TLC bought its former rival Brøderbund in June 1998 for $416 million.
In 1999, TLC was acquired by Mattel for US$4.2 billion. Sales and earnings for Mattel soon dropped, and O'Leary departed Mattel. The purchase by Mattel was later called one of the most disastrous acquisitions in recent history. Following the acquisition, Mattel experienced a USD $105 million loss where management had projected a US$50-million profit. Mattel's stock dropped, wiping out USD$3 billion of shareholder value in a single day. Mattel's shareholders later filed a class-action lawsuit accusing Mattel executives, O'Leary, and former TLC CEO Michael Perik of misleading investors about the health of TLC and the benefits of its acquisition. The lawsuit alleged that TLC used accounting tricks to hide losses and inflate quarterly revenues. O'Leary and his defendants disputed all of the charges. Mattel paid $122 million to settle the lawsuit in 2003. O'Leary blamed the technology meltdown and a culture clash of management of the two companies for the failure of the acquisition.
O'Leary and backers from Citigroup made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire the video game company Atari, and O'Leary made plans to start a video-gaming television channel that never came to fruition.
In 2003, O'Leary became a co-investor and director at StorageNow Holdings, a Canadian developer of climate-controlled storage facilities. StorageNow became the operator of storage services in Canada, with facilities in 11 cities, and was acquired by in Storage REIT in March 2007 for $110 million. O'Leary sold his shares, originally worth $500,000, for more than $4.5 million. In May 2005, Reza Satchu and O'Leary's partner, Wheeler, filed a $10-million wrongful-dismissal lawsuit, charging that they had altered an agreed-upon compensation deal and illegally reduced Wheeler's share of the profits. O'Leary said that Satchu and Whleer failed to reach performance targets.
In March 2007, O'Leary joined the advisory board of Genstar Capital, a private equity firm that focuses on investing in healthcare services, industrial technology, business services and software. Genstar Capital appointed O'Leary to its Strategic Advisory Board to seek new investment opportunities for its $1.2 billion fund.
In 2008, O'Leary co-founded O'Leary Funds Inc., a mutual fund company focused on global yield investing. He is the company's chairman and lead investor, while his brother Shane O'Leary serves as the director. The fund's assets under management grew from $400 million in 2011 to $1.2-billion in 2012. The fund's primary manager was Stanton Asset Management, a firm controlled by the husband-and-wife team of Connor O'Brien and Louise Ann Poirier.
According to research by Mark R. McQueen, the fund dipped into investors' principal to pay returns, contrary to O'Leary's statements. Another analysis also found that one quarter of the distributions from one of O'Leary's funds were return of capital. In November 2014, O'Leary Funds Management agreed to pay penalties to the Autorité des marchés financiers for violating certain technical provisions of the Securities Act. At the time of the agreement, O'Leary Funds reported that it had taken steps to correct the violations. On 15 October 2015, O'Leary Funds was sold to Canoe Financial, a private investment-management company owned by Canadian businessman W. Brett Wilson, who once was an investor with O'Leary on CBC's Dragons' Den.
O'Leary founded O'Leary Ventures, a private early-stage venture capital investment company, O'Leary Mortgages, O'Leary books, and O'Leary Fine Wines. In April 2014, O'Leary Mortgages went out of business.
ETF and investing
On 14 July 2015, O'Leary launched an ETF through O'Shares Investments, a division of his investment fund, O'Leary Funds Management LP, where O'Leary serves as chairman.
O'Leary also ventured into gold investing, with five percent of his financial portfolio invested in physical gold. However, he does not invest in stocks of gold-mining companies because he says cash flow is an important investment factor to him. O'Leary also advises diversification in multiple industry sectors so that no more than 20% of one's financial portfolio is held in one sector.
In September 2011, O'Leary released his first book, Cold Hard Truth: On Business, Money & Life, in which he shares his views on entrepreneurship, business, finance, money and life. A sequel, The Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women, and Money: 50 Common Money Mistakes and How to Fix Them, was published in 2012. It focused on financial literacy and financial education as a foundation for achieving wealth. O'Leary released a followup in 2013 in which he covers subjects relating to important life choices: education, careers, marriage and family, and retirement. He discusses the obstacles of raising a family while working to provide financial security for them and gives advice for developing financial literacy in family members, saving and investing money, and managing debt and credit.
Dragons' Den and Shark Tank
In 2006, O'Leary appeared as one of the five venture capitalists on the then-new show Dragons' Den on CBC, the Canadian installment of the international Dragons' Den format. On the show, O'Leary developed a persona as an abrasive, seemingly heartless investor - a persona that was encouraged by executive producer Stuart Coxe, who during the first two seasons occasionally asked O'Leary to be "more evil". Dragons' Den became one of the most-watched shows in CBC history, with around two million viewers per episode. Coxe attributed the show's success in large part to O'Leary's presence.
In 2009, the American version of Dragons' Den, Shark Tank, began, and Shark Tank executive producer Mark Burnett invited two of the CBC Dragons' Den investors, O'Leary and Robert Herjavec, to appear on the show. Both have appeared in every episode of Shark Tank since the first one. For several years, they appeared on both shows, although Herjavec left Dragons' Den in 2012, and O'Leary left in 2014. Shark Tank also became a ratings hit, averaging 9 million viewers per episode at its peak in the 2014-15 season. It has also won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Structured Reality Program three times.
During an episode of the first season of Shark Tank, after O'Leary made a particularly aggressive offer for a company, fellow investor Barbara Corcoran responded with the sarcastic riposte, "Well, aren’t you Mr. Wonderful?" O'Leary quickly embraced the nickname and began to refer to himself as "Mr. Wonderful" - both as a tongue-in-cheek reference to his reputation for being mean, as well as a reflection of his view that his blunt assessments are helpful to misguided entrepreneurs. He named his holding company for managing his Dragons' Den and Shark Tank investments "Something Wonderful". He also gained a reputation on the show for preferring deals in which he loans the entrepreneurs money in exchange for a percentage of future revenue, rather than taking a share of the company.
The Lang and O'Leary Exchange
In 2009, O'Leary began appearing with journalist Amanda Lang on CBC News Network's The Lang and O'Leary Exchange.
During a segment of The Lang & O'Leary Exchange on the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, O'Leary criticized Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges for sounding "like a left-wing nutbar." Hedges said afterwards that "it will be the last time" he would appear on the show and compared the CBC to Fox News. CBC's ombudsman found O'Leary's behaviour to be a violation of the public broadcaster's journalistic standards.
In January 2014, on The Lang and O'Leary Exchange, O'Leary remarked on reports that the world's richest 85 people owned as much wealth as the bottom half of the population was "fantastic news".
O'Leary has produced and hosted his own reality show, Redemption Inc., in which he tries to help ex-convicts start and develop their own businesses.
O'Leary worked as a co-host for the Discovery Channel's Discovery Project Earth, a show that explores innovative ways to reverse climate change. Having also been a co-host of SqueezePlay on Bell Media's Business News Network (BNN), he returned to the network on September 1, 2014 to join as a contributor for its radio and television stations such as CTV.
On 5 May 2015, O'Leary made an appearance on the game show Celebrity Jeopardy and received $10,000 for his charity despite finishing 3rd and in negative points after both Double Jeopardy and Final Jeopardy rounds.
In September of that year, O'Leary appeared as a celebrity judge in the 95th Miss America pageant.
On January 18, 2017, O'Leary officially entered the upcoming leadership election of the Conservative Party of Canada. Prior to this, he created controversy by offering to invest $1 million in the economy of Alberta in exchange for the resignation of Premier Rachel Notley and appeared with four other prospective leadership candidates at a conference for federal Conservatives in late February 2016 where he gave a presentation titled "If I Run, This is How." During this speech he predicted that the Liberal government would fall within four years as a result of economic collapse. Politically, he sees himself as mainly focused on the economy and as an opponent of government waste, high taxes and a low Canadian dollar; he plans to avoid identity politics.
Maxime Bernier, a Conservative Quebecois politician, criticized Kevin O'Leary, calling him a "tourist" for not being able to speak French and wanting to be Prime Minister. Bernier later clarified his comments by explaining that he wanted all leadership candidates to learn French and praised his fellow leadership contender Lisa Raitt, who was struggling to learn French. Toronto Star journalist Chantal Hébert has claimed that a non-Francophone campaign would likely fail at forming the government given the current political climate.
O'Leary has been compared to other businessmen-turned politicians such as Donald Trump. O'Leary responded to these comparisons by stating,"I'm of Lebanese-Irish descent, I don't build walls, I am very proud of the society we're building in Canada, I think it is the envy of the planet. There's no walls in my world. I wouldn't exist if Canada had walls."
On January 18, 2017, his former Dragons' Den co-star Arlene Dickinson stated that she found O'Leary to be too "self-interested and opportunistic" to be qualified for the office of Prime Minister. In response, another former Dragons' Den co-star, W. Brett Wilson, endorsed Kevin O'Leary highlighting differences between O'Leary as a businessman and his TV persona.
O'Leary became a member of the Conservative Party shortly before the party's 2016 convention and in December 2016, O'Leary revealed an exploratory committee that included former premier of Ontario, Mike Harris.
Economy and Trade
O'Leary supports free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. He described hypothetical trade negotiations between Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau as "Godzilla versus Bambi".
O'Leary believes corporate tax rates in Canada are too high, and has promised to eliminate the national carbon tax. O'Leary has threatened to punish provinces by withholding transfer payments if they do not eliminate their respective carbon taxes.
O'Leary is a critic of deficit spending and supports eliminating the national debt.
O'Leary opposes control of the CRTC over Canada's telecommunications system.
O'Leary supports building a pipeline from the Athabasca Oil Sands to Eastern Canada with the intentions of making Canada 'energy independent'. He has criticized Canada's reliance on Saudi Arabia for oil and gas. He has stated he would support a national referendum on the issue of pipelines.
O'Leary describes his social policies as 'very liberal'. He supports same-sex marriage and transgender rights.
O'Leary supports the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
O'Leary supports assisted suicide and cited Switzerland as a model for Canada to follow.
O'Leary supported ending Canadian airstrikes on ISIS and supports taking a peacekeeping role in the Syrian Civil War.
O'Leary described Russia as "neither an ally or a foe" in an interview with the CBC.
O'Leary has criticized Justin Trudeau's procurement plan. He supports purchasing aerial combat drones to defend the Canadian border and supports phasing out use of the Lockheed CP-140 Aurora citing cost reasons.
O'Leary has criticized the lack of funding of the Canadian Armed Forces and supports spending the NATO recommended 2% of GDP on military expenditures.
As cited in an Opinion Piece by Chris Young, O'Leary believes that Canada has no major immigration problems. He opposes the policy proposal of screening immigrants with a values test as proposed by Kellie Leitch.
In an interview with Evan Solomon, O'Leary has suggested to sell senate seats to the highest bidders.
O'Leary and his wife, Linda, have been married since 1990. The couple separated in 2011, but resumed their marriage after two years. Linda now serves as the VP of Marketing for O'Leary Wines. They have two children. Trevor is a music producer and DJ.