It’s a crisp morning in the Coal Harbour district of Vancouver, aframax tankers laden with crude oil are dotted around the bay, jostling for position. From the Penthouse on the 38th floor, what was a sunny dispositioned morning with views across Coal Harbour, English Bay, and the North Shore mountains looks like it’s rapidly becoming a weather warning. I stand clutching my coffee as cables begin to snake the apartment as more and more production gear is moved into position. In the midst of this sea of camera equipment, one man remains still.
Tech entrepreneur Alex Clark goes about his usual morning routine, making a healthy breakfast and helpfully ensuring the production crew are well-caffeinated. To speak to him, you wouldn’t know that Bit Stew, the company he co-founded, was acquired by General Electric for a nine-figure sum less than three years ago. Having arrived late to dinner the night before, my first meeting with Clark I hasten to add, he didn’t seem at all perturbed. A lack of time management skills tends to be a pet peeve amongst the tech community in my opinion but not Clark. Despite keeping him waiting for over 15 minutes whilst I negotiated Vancouver by Jeep, he was affable and forgiving. I myself would likely have broken bones or quietly cursed anyone that tardy under my breath. Luckily the shoe was on the other foot and Alex was magnanimous.
We had flown across the pond earlier that week to meet Alex on his new home turf, not to talk about his burgeoning technology empire and investment portfolio but his love of a particular Italian car brand embodied in Rosso corsa. A collector with a true interest in brand heritage and not just fiscal return is becoming more and more of a rarity as classic cars become a viable alternative asset class. Those willing to spend large sums on marques fresh out of the doors of Maranello without a call to their broker should be heralded as the true cognoscenti. For luxury car brands, enticing new life long brand devotee’s to their particular cult is a dark art form. So what had brought Clark into the Ferrari fold?
Name rank and number please Sir?
My name is Alex Clark, the title is Chief Software Architect but I do whatever is necessary.
So first I want to talk about Silicon Valley and how that shaped your work focus and drive.
I was raised in Silicon Valley which is how I got into computers. I went to San Jose State University for three days and majored in aerospace engineering and pretty much think I learned everything I needed in those three days.
So what was life like growing up in .Com California, was programming your first hustle?
I was living on my own since 17, working three different jobs so every dollar counted. I was a barista at Starbucks, I was a personal trainer and a martial arts instructor. I was in that class at San Jose State saying well I paid $1000 for this class, I can’t even see the professor but there’s a community college up the road which is 30 bucks a class and it’s state-mandated a cap at 30 people. So I thought that would be more my speed and more value for the dollar. I went there on and off for about eight years, I think I should have a PhD but I don’t. What would happen is I would attend classes then start working because Silicon Valley was booming, it was the .com time so jobs were plentiful and if you could write software you are golden.
I would work a bit and then have to drop out because the company would be like well we need you to fly to this customer site, we need you to go here and that would always win because living on your own you took whatever paid the bills.
So what are your earliest memories of falling in love with cars?
You know as a kid you grow up and you play with the hot wheels, and you see the posters of the Ferraris are you think someday someday.
And someday came and lit the fire of a collector didn’t it?
You know you get one and you kind of think oh yeah I got one, it’s great and then you think, well that one is nice and you get that one and suddenly you find that your kinda becoming a collector when you didn’t expect to and thankfully my wife is incredibly supportive almost too much so. She’ll see I like something and she’ll be like, you like it go for it.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s you had the Lamborghini Countach, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Lotus Esprit, why Ferrari?
The first one for me had to be Ferrari because ever since I was a kid that bright red Ferrari was always that boyhood dream. I remember seeing my first Ferrari Testarossa, I don’t know how old I was but I was under 10 and I was walking with my grandma and that thing drove by with all the pomp and circumstance that Ferraris do and I was hooked ever since then. For me there is something about Ferrari, I love Lamborghini and Porsche and all those others are fantastic but there’s just something about that Ferrari brand that brings out the inner child in me.
So GE acquires Bit Stew in 2016. Your grand plan of exiting before 40 is coming to fruition and you’re setting your sites on that dream car collection, what’s first?
So when the company sold and I was looking to buy the first one, it was the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta. So reliving the almost 40-year-old boy dream at that time, the bright red Ferrari was the first one out of the gate. I was super excited to sit down with the dealer and really take my time and pace it out and spec out all the options, I have never really had a car built before. You just need one, you see one on the lot and you get it. So it was really fun for me to go down to the Ferrari dealership. We went down to Ferrari Silicon Valley and met with them and sat and picked everything out and had a lot of fun doing that. But then the waiting game comes and you got to wait for it to be built and I think that took about a year to get that one built. Then when it finally arrives, you get in and drive around and being Silicon Valley you get to see how it idols in traffic right out of the gate. Then you finally find an open stretch of road, a nice twisty hillside road and open it up grinning ear to ear like a big kid.
So the F12 Berlinetta is in the rapidly expanding garage, what drives the next choice?
I originally got the GTC4Lusso as a kind of stepping stone to the Ferrari Pista. Initially, I thought about the Lusso and thought this isn’t really a car that makes sense for me, I have a daily driver, I don’t know that I really need another one and I started reading about it more and more and reviews were brilliant on it and I started getting more excited about it. So one day I decided whilst on vacation because it happens when you’re too relaxed and everything seems sunny and bright, I called the dealership and said yeah let’s go for the Lusso and get that one. I thought It was going to be a temporary one that only really held until the Ferrari Pista came.
Am I correct in that you never actually saw the GTC4Lusso before purchasing it?
I went down to pick it up and saw it for the first time yes. I remember the dealer looked at me and said, “you’ve never seen this before?” No, I haven’t seen this one before, but again my plan was temporary so it didn’t matter. But as I drove it from San Francisco to Vancouver and all around, I realised this is a pretty brilliant car and I don’t want to get rid of it, so the Lusso now has a permanent home here too.
So Ferrari is clearly the weapon of choice, you’ve drunk the kool-aid, this stems from a stint racing with Ferrari, doesn’t it?
I was fortunate enough to do Ferrari challenge and got to not only race somebody else’s Ferraris on the track very hard but race their challenge cars as well. The goal had been to get a special edition Ferrari and the Pista being really derived from the Ferrari challenge car, it’s got the challenge engine that they have tweaked and tuned specifically which got me really excited. I had just finished Ferrari challenge and so being able to get a challenge car for the street was really exciting. I flew down to Ferrari Silicon Valley again and Spec’d that one out with lots of carbon fibre bits, and I believe it’s a first time for Ferrari that they are doing carbon fibre wheels. So I will be properly nervous over every pothole. It certainly looks cool.
So as the garage expands and you move into acquiring special edition Ferrari’s, what is the holy grail?
Before I have friends and family give me an intervention the wish list is down to one car and it’s the Ferrari Monza SP1. Probably the most beautiful car I have ever seen. It’s really cool it’s a nod to their racing heritage, to the original Monza they had in the 1950’s but with a modern look feel and performance, it’s just drop-dead gorgeous.
The Monza has two model variants, doesn’t it?
I would go with the SP1, so they’ve got the SP2 which is a two-seater and an SP1 which from what I can tell in photos has a second seat but it’s a case of releasing the cover. I like the SP one because it’s asymmetrical and it’s a bit different, it’s a one-seater car. It really has a very clear nod back to their racing history when they were racing the original Monza’s. There is a beautiful launch colour that they have, it’s silver and yellow and it appears to pay tribute to the old 250 GTO that won The Tour de France I believe it was. It was silver with a yellow stripe on the bonnet and the Monza I’ve got my eye on, their SP1 launch spec is that exact paint scheme. That would be the crown jewel and Ferrari for the final.