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Pik Botha's grandson, Roelof, has been ranked as high as 22nd on the Forbes Midas list of venture capitalists, having funded the launch of You Tube in 2005.But they've done it as individuals, and – with the notable exception of commercial spaceflight pioneer Elon Musk – almost invisibly.In December, the Silicon Valley Business Journal made a remarkable statement regarding four of their first five winners of the US's high-tech chief executive officer awards, which feature competition from the likes of Google's Larry Page.A quarter century later, this small generation of South African immigrants has risen to break through, en masse, into such key leadership roles that they're changing the US.You Tube, Pay Pal, Solar City, epigenetic cancer therapy and intelligent Mars robots exist only because of these expats: one of them has led the transition from PCs to cloud computing; another leads the US's top business school; and another is replacing the space shuttle.In an earlier interview, he told me he left the country in 1988 because the South African Defence Force promised to be "an amazing waste of time".
He also said that South African TV was so bad in the 1980s that he was forced to read, and that off-the-shelf consumer options – such as amateur rocket kits – were so limited that he was forced to learn how to build and innovate on his own.Compared to the US's business world, expatriates have underachieved in Hollywood itself, but its modest breakthrough artists include Charlize Theron, District 9's Sharlto Copley and Stelio Savante, who both co-produced and cracked a role opposite Matthew Perry in the comedy The Whole Banana last year.Building and innovating The poster-child for the 1980s immigration generation is Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and Space X – the rocket company charged with leading the replacement of the space shuttle.It said: "Here's something interesting about our executive of the year awards, something that hadn't occurred to us at the time that these four executives were selected – they are all originally from South Africa." In Silicon Valley alone, South African-born high-tech chief executives include Vinny Lingham, founder of Yola and Gyft; Willem van Biljon, co-founder of Nimbula; and Pieter de Villiers, founder and chief executive of Clickatell, the world's largest online text messaging service.And these weren't even among the award winners.And to test his "autonomous navigation" systems, Pedersen (42) gets to test the robots in places like Antarctica and alpine lakes in the Andes.