How Robert Duggan Became a Billionaire

Robert Duggan is an American entrepreneur and billionaire whose investment philosophy is "not just making a differencebut making a difference for the betterment of all involved." 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

Duggan had an estimated net worth of $1.8 billion as of June 16, 2021. He is a member of the Church of Scientology and reportedly has donated more than $360 million to the church over his lifetime.

Duggan made headlines in May 2015 when he sold Pharmacyclics to AbbVie for $21 billion. As chief executive officer (CEO) of Pharmacyclics, Duggan presided over a stunning turnaround in the bio-pharmaceutical company's fortunes, with its shares rallying from $0.57 each in Feb. 2009 to more than $260 per share just seven years later.

Duggan reportedly netted over $3 billion before taxes in the sale of Pharmacyclics to AbbVie. 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, California. 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 business career began in 1971 when he invested $100,000 for a 50% stake in a children's embroidery company Sunset Designs. The company produced the "Jiffy Stitchery Kits" brand of designs that were 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.

As a serial entrepreneur, Duggan worked on multiple simultaneous business ventures. While a board member at Sunset Designs, he founded Paradise Bakery in 1976. With his investment and guidance, the company secured partnerships to supply cookies to McDonald’s, Disney World, and KFC. The company was sold in 1987 and is now owned by Panera Bread.

Since then, Duggan has both started and invested in numerous other businesses. This includes a technology company that provided computer services to the United States government. He also formed Metropolis Media with a $3 million investment and eventually sold it for $45 million.

Building a Billion-Dollar Company

Duggan first invested in Pharmacyclics in 2005 and jointed its board of directors two years later. In 2008, he was appointed CEO after the original chief executive stepped down from the struggling bio-pharmaceutical company.

Forbes reported that Duggan began accumulating shares in the $10 range. He continued amassing shares as they continued to fall, hitting $2 each by 2007. He eventually built a 24.2% stake in the company.

In a 2009 commencement speech at UC Santa Barbara, he told science and math graduates the company was "on a collision course to disaster."

During his tenure from 2008-2015, Duggan saved Pharmacyclics and turned the company into a billion-dollar behemoth with more than 500 employees. The turnaround was mainly driven by the success of Imbruvica, a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

As a result, shares in Pharmacyclics dramatically increased. In 2015, AbbVie announced it would acquire Pharmacyclics for $21 billion. Duggan reportedly made over $3 billion from the sale.

The Benevolent Billionaire

Throughout his career, Duggan has engaged in many philanthropic endeavors. Both he and his ex-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. Duggan told the Tampa Bay Times his donations to the church exceeded the $360 million figure cited by Forbes. 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.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Duggan Investments. "About Bob Duggan."

  2. Forbes. "#1750 Robert Duggan."

  3. Duggan Investments. "Developers of the Breakthrough Oncology Cancer Drug."

  4. Duggan Investments. "The Idealistic Genius."

  5. Bob Duggan. "Born to Create."

  6. Duggan Investments. "Sunset Designs Overview."

  7. Duggan Investments. "Paradise Bakery Overview."

  8. Duggan Investments. "Metropolis Media Overview."

  9. Pulse Biosciences. "Board of Directors."

  10. Forbes. "Billionaire Robert Duggan's Bet On Pharmacyclics Stands Among Top Trades Of Crisis Era."

  11. The Regents of the University of California. "Transcript & Video of Bob Duggan's 2009 Science and Math Commencement Speech."

  12. Pharmacyclics. "CLL."

  13. AbbVie. "AbbVie to Acquire Pharmacyclics, Including its Blockbuster Product Imbruvica, Creating an Industry Leading Hematological Oncology Franchise."

  14. Bob Duggan. "Inspiring Life-Long Learning."

  15. Tampa Bay Times. "The Man Who Gave Scientology $360 Million Actually Answered the Phone."

  16. Bloomberg. "Scientology Donor Becomes a Billionaire With Cancer Drug." (Login required.)