From the dawn of its existence, the tech industry has been one of the best ways for someone to get really rich, really fast. In the last few years alone, thousands of tech people have become multi-millionaires and even multi-billionaires overnight thanks to the sale of a hot new tech startup, website or even a smartphone App. Typically, the people who experience these incredible windfalls of wealth are either the founder of a company or a very early employee. Furthermore, anyone who is lucky enough to be granted a valuable early chunk of pre-IPO shares, generally brings a set of highly coveted technical skills that are crucial in making the startup successful. We're talking about developers, designers, coders, analysts even mathematicians and statisticians. Despite being fairly vital to any startup, employees who work in departments like marketing, public relations, legal or even human resources, are rarely showered with enough stock options to become rich for life when the jackpot hits. But what about the guy who prepares the CEO's favorite organic spinach and cheese omelet every morning? Is he vital enough to earn a potentially life changing grant of equity? Back in 1999, the founders of a little known search engine with a funny sounding name definitely thought so. This is the story Charlie Ayers, AKA Google employee #56, AKA the luckiest chef ever to flip a spatula.
Over the years Charlie Ayers has had a very interesting career in the food preparation industry. Born in Chicago and raised in Brooklyn, he started out working in New Jersey for the Hilton Hotel company. He eventually attended culinary school in Rhode Island before getting hired at a middle of the road restaurant preparing your basic pastas, steaks, chicken specials etc. Next Charlie moved on to a series of fancier restaurants in the Boston area. Charlie worked for a time managing the prepared foods section of a Whole Foods and even worked as a private chef for a few wealthy families.
A lifelong music-lover, in the mid 90s Charlie landed somewhat of a dream job preparing meals backstage at music festivals. Through this gig, Charlie was eventually hired away to be the private exclusive chef for some very successful music groups that couldn't live without his tasty meals while touring the world. One of those bands, The Grateful Dead, became a regular client. So regular, that at some point around this time, Charlie moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area to be closer to the band full time.
Life was pretty good for Chef Charlie. He was getting paid a pretty decent living to cook meals for rock stars around the world. So you can understand the shock and confusion his friends and family felt when Charlie announced he was giving it all up. What could possibly replace the rock star chef dream life? Was he hired away to run the kitchen at a fancy California restaurant? Nope. Did a Silicon Valley billionaire hire him to be his private chef in a huge mansion? Nope. Did a pair of 26 year old engineers from Stanford steal him away to work at their then-unknown search engine with a silly sounding name? Yup.
In 1999, ignoring the advice and protestations of his friends and family, Charlie Ayers gave up a relatively stable life touring with rock stars to become the corporate chef for a tiny startup called Google. Charlie was employee #56 at Google. And like most early employees at a tech firm, Charlie was given a grant of options in the privately held company. That probably seems amazing in retrospect, but keep in mind that in the year Charlie was hired, Google brought in just $220,000 in total revenues. CelebrityNetWorth made more than that in 2013. So you can understand why Charlie probably didn't think much of this imaginary equity and instead concentrated on delivering high quality organic food to Google's diverse group of workers from around the world.
Over the next several years, Google would continue to grow both in employee count and revenue. In 2000, Google's revenue skyrocketed from $220,000 to more than $19 million. By 2001 revenues jumped to $85 million. In 2002 revenue topped $430 million. In 2003, Google earned $1.5 billion. In 2004, the year Google went public, the Larry Page and Sergey Brin's tiny search engine with a goofy name took in $3.2 billion.
As Google grew, early employees like Charlie probably started contacting their accountants to find out more info about these so-called "stock options". What were they worth? How could they be sold? When Google went public on August 19, 2004, roughly 900 employees became millionaires overnight. A few like Larry and Sergey actually became instant billionaires. At an opening price of $85 a share, Charlie's 40,000 shares were worth $3.4 million. But that's not where this story ends.
By the time Charlie left Google in 2005, his kitchen had grown from a one man operation to a team 135. He had gone from preparing around 50 meals a day to more than 4000. With millions of dollars to his name, Charlie went on to fulfill his dream of opening his very own restaurant called "Calafia Café & Market" in Palo Alto. He also released a cookbook called "Food 2.0: Secrets From The Chef Who Fed Google".
Google never stopped growing and Charlie never sold a single share. By 2007, thanks the explosion of online ad revenue at Google, Charlie's equity was worth more than $26 million. As of January 16, 2014, Google is trading at $1,155 per share, therefore making Charlie's equity worth $46.2 million. Not a bad haul for a tech employee who never wrote a single line of code. Easily enough to earn him a spot on our list of the richest chefs in the world!