And before he got his drug conviction expunged, denied responsibility for the environmental debacle and landed on the Forbes billionaire list.
Jobs' story is well-known. But the latest chapter in Friedland's saga of risk and reward is playing out in this remote stretch of Outer Mongolia's Gobi Desert, where he has staked a claim bigger than Greece. The 52,000-square-mile license area contains copper and gold Friedland says could be worth $100 billion at the Oyu Tolgoi, or Turquoise Hill, site. Coal and other metals add more value.
Once again, Friedland, a master dealmaker, has the chance to prove himself a hero or a villain as he links prospectors, investors and officials with miners, markets and precious metals. The mine, which could cost $2.7 billion, will alter the Gobi environment and turbocharge Mongolia's economy.
Here, camels stroll past drill rigs and yurts. Herdsmen speak warmly of the suave, self-assured 55-year-old executive whose company helped them to move off site with the lure of new water wells and college tuition for their children. The mayor of the nearest town expects a boom that could bring the nation its first McDonald's.
Friedland says he's helping to build Mongolia -- a landlocked, sparsely populated country -- into the next Asian "tiger" economy.
"Nothing of this scale has been found on Planet Earth in the last 30 years," Friedland told investors last spring about his latest find, which explorers are drilling for core samples. "We can't find the limits of it."
Friedland chairs Ivanhoe Mines of Vancouver, British Columbia. He and his second wife, Darlene, have sold their Sydney, Australia, mansion to live in Hong Kong and Singapore. Friedland, a dual U.S. and Canadian citizen, operates a network of companies from plush 37th-floor offices in Singapore's Millenia Tower.