When K.Y. Ho settled into retirement last November after turning a $300,000 investment into one of Canada's top technology companies, he reflected back on his 20 years at ATI Technologies Inc.

"I finally finished the wonderful American dream," the 55-year-old electrical engineer said.

The graphics chip designer he co-founded had topped $2-billion in annual sales, and in the process turned him into one of the country's richest men.

Story continues below advertisement

But the most American part of Mr. Ho's success story didn't hit until yesterday, when Silicon Valley's Advanced Micro Devices Inc. announced that ATI had agreed to a friendly $5.4-billion (U.S.) acquisition. In the background, some speculated that the offer from AMD, the world's second-largest chip maker, might be topped by the biggest of them all, the U.S. giant Intel Corp.

Mr. Ho, originally from China, arrived in Canada on a tourist visa in October, 1983. A short time later he began taking some consulting jobs.

In 1985, he and two partners, Benny Lau and Lee Ka Lau, scrounged together $300,000 (Canadian) to start a graphics company to supply the nascent personal computer industry.

Things moved quickly on all fronts. By 1986, ATI was pumping out close to $10-million in annual sales. A year later sales quadrupled.

ATI was a company of fewer than 20 people in its early years and focused on three products: a customized chip it developed for its own internal use, a graphics chip and a product that enriched the colour displayed on PC screens.

Its early rapid growth posed financial difficulties because no North American banks would support ATI. The company relied on its own profits to finance growth, along with investment from Export Development Corp. Mr. Ho was eventually able to tap the Bank of Singapore for a $1.5-million loan.

Mr. Ho and his partners decided to take their company public in 1993. They wanted to raise money to fund the rapidly growing business. But Mr. Ho had another motive. Rivals were spreading rumours to customers that ATI was in financial trouble and he wanted the transparency of a public company.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Ho was named both the Canadian Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young and one of the world's top 25 executives by BusinessWeek magazine.

But the publicity turned sour in 2003, when the Ontario Securities Commission levied charges of illegal insider trading against him. The allegations -- which also extended to a handful of other executives who eventually settled and agreed to fines and reprimands -- placed a cloud over ATI for several years. It wasn't until last October that an independent panel of OSC commissioners cleared Mr. Ho of any wrongdoing.