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12-year-old CEO Juggles School and Business

10/31/00 4:30:20 PM

Tyke Tycoon

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Gone are the days when the term CEO was personified by a white man in a gray suit, sitting at a desk in a skyscraper. This is the ‘New Economy’—a time for changing the face of business and business people. Today’s CEO could be a mountain-biking 20-something in Seattle, a recent MBA graduate in New York, or even an elementary school student in Ontario.

Keith Peiris, 12, is part of that new generation of young entrepreneurs. He presides over the main office of his company, Cyberteks, wearing shorts and an over-sized T-shirt, the usual after-school garb of most seventh graders.

Peiris began using computers when he was about 3 years old, and quickly began to teach himself the ins and outs of programming and software. The idea to start his own company—building Web sites, consulting in graphic design and e-commerce—came last June, when Peiris realized “it seemed I had enough talent to do what I saw on the Web. I decided why should I waste it?”

 He started small—building a Web site for a public school in his hometown of London, Ontario. Though he built that site only last year, Peiris feels it has already become dated, and hopes to revamp it soon. “You always have to stay above technology because what’s new now will be ancient one year from now,” Peiris said, describing his motivating drive. 

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 He isn't old enough to drive, but he's the CEO and president of his own


His work is primarily based on the use of Macromedia Flash, a software program mixing graphics, animation and sound which he learned to use through trial and error. Since November 1999, Cyberteks has been listed in the Macromedia Flash Gallery, a prestigious listing of companies that use the program with great success. Peiris says being recognized by the software giant has helped to generate much business for his growing company. 

Several clients and inquiries have also come through the extensive media recognition the fledgling company has received so far. Articles have appeared in papers throughout North America, and Peiris has also made several television and radio appearances. He seems like a natural, with the poise and composure of someone more than twice his age. Asked how he feels about all the attention, Peiris responded, “It’s great, but I shouldn’t let it go to my head. I’m just a small fish in a big pond.” 

He may be small now, but with 20 international clients in his portfolio to date, Peiris has great hopes for where he wants to take the company. “Sooner or later I hope to have it as one of the Fortune 500 companies,” he said. 

All this is done with the help of his father Deepal, a former businessman and accountant who now works full-time as Cyberteks’ vice-president of operations. The pair have hired a graphic artist to work with them, and are seeking several others to join them as the company expands. This expansion will soon include sales offices in New York, Detroit and Houston, and a branch office in Buenos Aires. 

However, it’s not ‘all work, no play’ for Peiris. Work, he says, is fun, and when he needs to finish a project over a weekend he does not hesitate to do so. He is also very active on a local hockey team, and spends his spare time surfing the Internet and playing games on But spare time is something this youngster doesn’t seem to have much of. In addition to his work, school and activities, he and his father have been invited to accompany a Canadian Trade Mission to China in November—a ten-day tour where Cyberteks will get a chance to present their services to a multi-national audience. 

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 Deepal keeps Keith on track.

Deepal, who came to Canada from Sri Lanka in 1981, makes sure his son does not lose sight of the priorities of school and family. Despite missing classes to attend business meetings and seminars, Deepal says Keith still managed to get top marks in 1999. 

School, though always a concern, is not as exciting to Peiris as business is. “I just think I can achieve more in a day doing business than one day at school,” Peiris said. Still, he plans to attend a university and study business or computer science. 

In the meantime, he is preparing himself for what the future may hold in terms of technology. “I really don’t see the Internet as changing,” Peiris says, “but more the ways to view the Internet are changing. Right now most people are using PCs, but … studies show that the amount of PCs will go down [in the future] and hand-held devices will go up.” 

By using the technology that exists now and keeping abreast of industry developments, Keith hopes to set his company apart from the competition. “You have to think of something better than your competitors. It’s kind of a race, and I don’t think that will ever stop.”