Robert Duggan is an American entrepreneur whose philosophy of ‘‘making a difference for the better’’ has made him billions of dollars. For more than five decades, Duggan has played instrumental roles in growing startups and turning around failing companies. His history of venture capital investments includes a robotic surgery company, a cookie bakery, and numerous tech companies.
Robert Duggan's Net Worth
With an estimated net worth of $2 billion on Feb. 3, 2020, Duggan is the wealthiest member of the Church of Scientology and is known as the organization’s top donor. Duggan made headlines in May 2015 when he sold Pharmacyclics, a biopharmaceutical company he was the chief executive officer (CEO) of, to another pharmaceutical firm, AbbVie.
At the time of the acquisition, Duggan held 18% of Pharmacyclics’ stock. The acquisition was a $21 billion transaction and Duggan personally walked away with $3.5 billion, before taxes, from the deal. Below is an overview of how Robert Duggan went from humble beginnings to one of the world's wealthiest individuals.
Early Life and Schooling
Born in 1944, Duggan grew up as the third of five children in a lower-middle-class household in San Jose, Calif. His father was an Irish immigrant who worked as an industrial engineer and his mother was a registered nurse. When asked about his childhood, Duggan stated, ‘‘We [our family] made about $800 a month...The last couple days of every month we scrambled around the house looking for lost quarters, dimes, and nickels [to pay the bills].’’
As a child, Duggan played basketball and football. After turning 18 in 1962, Duggan enrolled at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he studied economics. However, he dropped out of the program in 1966 and became a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied business management for two years but never completed a degree.
What Education Do Billionaires Have?
Early Business Activities
Duggan’s career in the world of business began in the early 1970s when he invested $100,000 for a 50% equity stake in a children’s embroidery company by the name of Sunset Designs. The company was behind the Jiffy Stitchery brand that was sold in more than 7,000 retail stores. Sunset Designs was later acquired for $15 million by British consumer goods conglomerate, Reckitt, and Benckiser Group in the mid-1980s.
As a serial entrepreneur, Duggan worked on multiple business ventures simultaneously on various occasions. While carrying out his role as a board member at Sunset Designs, Duggan worked on another startup called Paradise Bakery. With his investment and guidance, the company secured partnerships to supply its cookies to popular brands such as McDonald’s, Disney World, and KFC.
According to Duggan’s official biography, Paradise Bakery became, ‘‘One of the leaders in bringing fresh baked cookies to the American market.’’ The company was sold in 1987, just 11 years after its founding, and is currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of Panera Bread.
Since then, Duggan has both started and invested in numerous other businesses. These include a technology company that provided computer services to the United States Government, and Metropolis Media, a company he formed with $3 million and eventually sold for $45 million.
Building a Billion-Dollar Company
In September 2008, Duggan was appointed CEO of Pharmacyclics, a California-based biopharmaceutical company that was founded in 1991. At the time, Pharmacyclics had a market capitalization of $15 million and was on the brink of collapse. Duggan, who was the company’s largest shareholder with 24.1% of the outstanding stock, took on the challenge of turning around the failing firm which he once described in retrospect as a "collision course to disaster."
Duggan began accumulating shares in the company in 2004 when the stock traded around $10. From then to mid-2007, the stock fell to as low as $3 per share due to a number of internal issues. Instead of cutting his losses by selling what little value the stock had left, Duggan stuck it through and continued purchasing more shares.
During his tenure from 2008-2015, Duggan saved Pharmacyclics and turned it into a billion-dollar company with more than 500 employees. The turn of events was mainly influenced by a successful drug the company developed called Imbruvica. It is a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
As a result, Pharmacyclics’s stock price dramatically increased, making Duggan a billionaire by 2014. In 2015, AbbVie announced that it would be acquiring Pharmacyclics for $21 billion. Duggan grossed $3.4 billion from the sale.
The Benevolent Billionaire
Throughout his career, Duggan has engaged in many philanthropic endeavors. Both he and his wife, Trish, have given back to their alma mater, the University of California, in various ways, including funding two academic chairs for the school and financing athletic scholarships.
As a devout Scientologist, Duggan has donated millions of dollars to the Church of Scientology as well as non-profit organizations affiliated with the church. According to Bloomberg, Duggan has given Scientology organizations more than $20 million, making him the organization's top donor. His donations to the Church of Scientology have helped to fund missions and maintain the Freewinds, a cruise ship that hosts religious retreats for parishioners.
Talking about his monetary contributions to the Church, Duggan said, ‘‘Scientology and what it has made available to me in the way of courses and other programs has steered me in the direction of becoming a better and more capable person. Thus, I feel it is an honor and personal obligation to share my financial success with Scientology.”
The Bottom Line
Robert Duggan’s track record of entrepreneurial success spans more than 50 years. Over the years, Duggan has been involved with a number of businesses from a broad range of industries and steered them to success, and by doing so, growing his wealth.