Michael Lee-Chin will never reach the same legendary status as music icon and fellow Jamaican Bob Marley, but the story of his grandiose rise to success in the Canadian financial world is well-known to many. Born in 1951, in Port Antonio, Jamaica, Lee-Chin, now 53, came to Canada to study engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton at age 19. Diploma in hand, he returned home to work for the government as a civil engineer. But he came back to Canada in 1976 and entered the ranks of the mutual-fund industry–where he would eventually make his considerable fortune.
In 1987, the ambitious first-born of nine children bought Advantage Investment Counsel (now AIC Ltd.) for a measly $200,000. Today, he is the CEO and principal shareholder of Canada's largest privately held mutual fund company, with assets under management of $11 billion. In July, the Canadian edition of Time magazine named him one of “Canada's heroes.” But even heroes fall on tough times now and then.
First, there have been grumblings from investors that AIC's funds haven't been earning high enough returns. Some have pulled out their money. In fact, the Investment Funds Institute of Canada reported AIC's net redemptions for October were $172 million, the highest among Canadian firms. AIC's troubles chalk up to a 33% decrease in Lee-Chin's wealth as valued by our annual ranking, and have knocked him down 15 spots, to No. 33. AIC was also among four mutual fund companies investigated by the Ontario Securities Commission in September for questionable trading practices involving market-timing. Some industry sources say the four firms may pay as much as $200 million in restitution to investors.
Then again, Lee-Chin has made plenty of good news for himself this year. In January, he donated $10 million to the University of Toronto's Joseph L. Rotman School of Management. Then, in September, when Hurricane Ivan devastated parts of Jamaica, he set up a relief fund through the country's National Commercial Bank (of which he purchased a 75% stake in 2002) that matched donations dollar-for-dollar up to $2 million.
Lee-Chin's own legacy may get a boost from his native country's reggae hero, who died in 1981. The financial wizard is in talks to buy a large collection of Bob Marley memorabilia that he wants to donate to the yet-to-be established National Museum of Jamaican Music. Considering Lee-Chin's net worth is still valued at more than $1 billion, it may be apt to steal some lyrics from the music legend: Don't worry, Michael. Don't worry about a thing.