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The Ottawa Citizen Online Business Page
Thursday 4 January 2001

12-year-old CEO to join Team Canada trade mission

Grade 7 student will skip school to drum up business for his firm

Christopher Guly
The Ottawa Citizen


Suzanne Bird, The London Free Press / Keith Peiris, 12, hopes joining Canada's trade mission to China will help his online firm grow.

The president and chief executive officer of London, Ont.-based Cyberteks Design will join Prime Minister Jean Chretien next month on the Team Canada 2001 tour to China.

That fact isn't particularly newsworthy in itself, since the trade mission will include about 350 businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and heads of educational institutions and municipalities from across Canada.

However, Keith Peiris is bound to get more attention than his fellow executives might during the Feb. 9-18 jaunt to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

He's only 12.

But while Keith may be singular insofar as his need to take time off from his Grade 7 studies at St. Bernadette Catholic School in London, he insists his goal on the trip will be the same as that of the other Canadian CEOs on the tour. Keith wants to drum up business for his 18-month-old firm.

"We're going to present ourselves, give a short presentation and sell ourselves, which is what everyone else is doing," says the executive, who stands four feet, 11 inches and will travel to Asia with his Sri Lankan-born father, Deepal, 51.

Thus far, Cyberteks has no Asian customers. But the company, which specializes in designing Macromedia Flash sound-and-animated graphics Web sites and electronic commerce, and is run out of the basement of the Peiris family home, has attracted some impressive clientele and accolades.

Interep, the largest radio advertising agency in the U.S., headquartered in New York City, is footing most of Keith's Team Canada bill ($9,500 excluding accommodations per person). In March, Interep contracted Cyberteks to design an Interep Flash Web site.

Cyberteks also prepared an e-commerce site for Kewl Threads, a Toronto-based hockey-influenced apparel firm founded by Darcy Tucker and Shayne Corson of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This year, Cyberteks also made Ottawa-based Branham Group Inc.'s Top 50 list of Web development and services companies in Canada.

And as of yesterday, Cyberteks' Web site (www.cyberteks.net) had attracted 222,310 visitors since Sept. 19, 1999.

With annual revenues in the six figures, Cyberteks plans to go public "in the next two years or so," says the firm's boy-genius head, who began dabbling with computers at age three. By the time he was six, Keith was installing software for friends and neighbours before tackling the more technically intricate world of Macromedia.

"I really didn't look at manuals," he explains. "I find the best way to learn is firsthand."

Last summer, the straight-A student attended two conferences to bone up on more advanced technology.

A year before, Robert Burgess, the Canadian-born chairman and CEO of San Francisco-based Macromedia, Inc., introduced then 11-year-old Keith during his keynote address at a new media conference and trade show in Toronto.

Despite receiving a few "bad" e-mails often laced with profanity and including such comments as "you don't know what you're talking about," Keith says that most people "think it's amazing" that someone of his age is a CEO.

To be sure, he has some help from his dad, who handles the business and marketing side at Cyberteks and has established seven sales offices in the U.S. Keith, meanwhile, concentrates on the firm's creative and design side.

But homework comes first, he insists.

Only when a "tight deadline" is looming at Cyberteks will he put aside the books.

"I will not neglect school," says Keith.

However, when things get busy, he can always rely on the help of five part-time programmers and graphic designers roughly twice their boss's age.

"They come in when completely necessary. Otherwise, I do all the work as much as possible," Keith explains.

"I always try and put my input into the initial part of the design."

He also knows a thing or two about corporate branding.

This year, Keith, a minor-hockey league goalie, decided to form his own team, called the London Junior Knights.

Emblazoned on the jersey of every player is the Cyberteks logo.

UP

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