Jeffrey Skoll

Jeffrey Stuart Skoll, born January 16, 1965, is a Canadian engineer, billionaire internet entrepreneur, and film producer. He was the first president of eBay, eventually utilizing his wealth to become a philanthropist, particularly through the Skoll Foundation and his media company, Participant Media. He founded an investment firm, Capricorn Investment Group, soon after and currently serves as its chairman.

Early life

Jeff Skoll was born to a Jewish family in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His mother was a teacher, and his father was a chemical company owner who sold industrial chemicals. The family settled in Toronto in the late seventies. When Skoll was 14 years old, his father was diagnosed with cancer, prompting him to discuss with his son how much he regretted having had the time to do everything he planned in his life. His first job was pumping gas at a York Mills gas station.

He graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science with honours in 1987 from the University of Toronto’s electrical engineering program. While an undergraduate student, he co-edited the engineering students’ satirical newspaper The Tolks and Oike. He managed to pay his way through college by pumping gas in North York, Ontario. After he graduated, he backpacked around the world for a number of months before returning and founding two businesses in Toronto: Skoll Engineering, an information technology consulting firm, and Micros on the Move Ltd., a computer rental firm. He left Canada in 1993 to earn a Master of Business Administration degree at Stanford Business school, graduating in 1995. After Stanford, he went to work at Knight-Ridder where he was working on internet projects for the publishing company.

In 1996, Skoll met eBay’s founder, Pierre Omidyar, who would hire him as the company’s first president and first full-time employee. At the time, eBay was already profitable at the time Skoll joined, he wrote a business plan that eBay followed in subsequent years. He would remain the president until the arrival of Meg Whitman in January 1998, when he then became vice president of Strategic Planning and Analysis until back problems caused him to depart from full-time employment at the company. In 1998, he created the eBay foundation, which was an allocated pre-IPO stock now worth $32 million.

In 2004, Skoll founded the company Participate to create films that would increase public awareness of critical social issues and provide audiences with opportunities to get involved through education and social action campaigns.


Shortly after graduation from business school, he began his career at eBay where he wrote the business plan that the company followed since its emergence as a start-up to a larger company. While working at the company, he began the eBay Foundation, which was allocated pre-IPO stock now worth $32 million. Once eBay’s second-largest stockholder, he subsequently cashed out a portion of his company holdings, yielding him around $2 billion.

Through his film production company, Participant Media (of which is the founder, owner, and chairman), he has produced a number of critically acclaimed films. This includes Syriana (2005), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), and North Country (2005), along with the documentary Murderball (2005). His subsequent films included An Inconvenient Truth (2006), Waiting for “Superman” (2010), Lincoln (2012), and his latest, Spotlight (2015) won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2016.

In 2004, Skoll founded the company Participant to create films that increase public awareness of critical social issues and give audiences opportunities to get involved through education and social action campaigns. After his first set of initial films, Skoll financed and played a key role in the creation of the environmental documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which grew out of a slideshow developed by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore on the climate crisis. The film went on to win the 2006 Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary.

“I would never have predicted that a film like An Inconvenient Truth would impact so many people,” Skoll told Philanthropy Roundtable.

The Financial Times reported in 2009 that Participant allowed Skoll to “pursue social and political causes through a mass medium. From modest beginnings, the company is now a serious player.”

Fortune wrote the next year that Skoll’s films aren’t typical Hollywood rare.

“They tackle weighty subjects such as eco-Armageddon, petro-terrorism, education reform, and women’s rights.”

Skoll has served as the Executive Producer or Producer on nearly 100 Participant films, including Spotlight, Roma, and American Factory. As of 2019, Participant has won 18 Oscars and received 73 Academy Award nominations. In 2020, the company received yet another Academy Award nomination and won for the best documentary feature for American Factory.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, in 2014, Skoll funded the creation of the Skoll Center for Social Impact Entertainment through the UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television. He said: “I found Participant Media in the belief that a story well-told has the power to ignite positive social change. This new center at UCLA TFT is an extension of that vision, with the goal of empowering people to connect to the social issues that can have a profound impact on our world.”

In March 2019, Participant and the Skoll Center for Social Impact Entertainment would release a report: “The State of Social Impact Entertainment,” that said “social impact entertainment – narrative and solving real-world challenges, is not a fad, but the future of the entertainment industry.

In 2019, Skoll and Participant CEO David Linde accepted the newly created TIFF Impact Award from the Toronto International Film Festival, in 2020, the award was renamed the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media, awarding it to Mira Nair.

Net Worth

4.3 Billion


Bloomberg Business Week's list of most innovative philanthropists (2002–present)
National Leadership Award for Commonwealth Club Silicon Valley (2004)
Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the International Association of Fundraising Professionals (2003)
Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Silicon Valley chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (2002)
Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Toronto (2003)
Time Magazine's 100 People of the Year (2006)
Wired Magazine's Rave Award (2006)
He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada "for his generous commitment to social causes and for his innovative practice of philanthropy.” (2011)
Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy (2017)