Chuck Feeney is practically a poor man at the end of his life, but he’s happy about it.
89-year-old American businessman Chuck Feeney finally said goodbye to his wealth, which several decades ago totaled $8 billion. On September 16, his Atlantic Philanthropy Foundation spent its last funds and was officially closed. The former billionaire gave away all his money completely voluntarily, going down in history as the only super-rich person who completely parted with his fortune in favor of charity. Although the old entrepreneur, who took the example of Warren Buffett and bill gates, has nothing left, he considers himself happy.
The life of Charles (Chuck) Feeney is a classic embodiment of the” American dream”, which in the last century was still available to many people. A boy from an Irish working-class family cleaned snow and sold Christmas cards to earn some money. However, he soon became the first of his kind to graduate from Cornell University in the state new york.
As often happens, studying at a University provides not only the necessary knowledge, but also allows you to acquire connections that help in future success. This is what happened to Feeney: at University, he met Robert Miller, with whom he founded Duty Free Shoppers in 1960. The company relied on the us military, which in the 1960s traveled EN masse to East Asia and back. The income of military personnel during this period increased significantly, and it was convenient for them to shop directly at US airports.
In 1962, the first duty-free store in America was opened at Honolulu airport. Later, DFS was able to rise even higher thanks to growing prosperity in Asian countries and covered airports across North America, Europe and Asia with its stores. So Feeney, Miller and their partners quickly moved into the billionaire class.
For all his resourcefulness and enterprise, Feeney was burdened with a multibillion-dollar fortune from the very beginning.
In many ways, he was inspired by the book” the steel king ” by Andrew Carnegie, who postulated that the best way to use accumulated wealth is to help society. To this end, Chuck Feeney founded the Atlantic Foundation in 1982, the first of the charitable foundations that earned money under the businessman’s management over the next decades.
For America, charity is a common thing. State social insurance gained strength here only before the Second world war, and the unprotected segments of the population could rely mainly on public organizations and private charitable foundations. Many well-known rich people gave millions of dollars to such causes: this was not considered mandatory, but at least a sign of a kind of good manners in successful people.
However, the Foundation created by Fini had differences from hundreds of similar institutions. All charity programs run by the organization were strictly anonymous. In addition to the billionaire’s modesty, his certain isolation also played a role — he did not want to be a star and celebrity, preferring a quiet private life. Only 15 years after the creation of the Atlantic Foundation, information about its generous founder became available to everyone — after he sold his company to the French LVMH. Nevertheless, he actively managed his “social investments”, actively traveling to the regions that his Foundation helped, meeting local residents and representatives of the elite there and trying to learn more about their needs.
Feeney’s goal was to develop regions that he considered undervalued. These were County Limerick in his ancestral homeland of Ireland, da Nang in Vietnam, Queensland in Australia, and Western Cape in South Africa. By the way, many of these territories have really experienced a kind of Renaissance in recent decades.
Another principle that distinguishes Feeney from other philanthropists was the motto Giving while living — “Give while you live”.
Many American and European billionaires leave a large portion of their wealth to charity projects — but only after their death. Feeney, on the other hand, transferred almost all of his money to a charity almost from the very beginning and planned to give it all away by 2020 — which is exactly what happened.
Big billionaire philanthropists like bill gates and Warren Buffett called Finney their teacher. In 2014, Buffett said that Feeney set a benchmark that was later used by billionaires who decided to donate their wealth to charity.
The total amount of donations to charity from the funds created by Fini has so far reached $8 billion. Of all the areas of social assistance, the businessman valued education the most. For educational purposes, not only in the United States, but also around the world, $3.7 billion was spent — almost half of the total amount (1 billion went to Fini’s Alma mater). $700 million was allocated to health development programs, and about 900 million was allocated to human rights and other social needs.
Interestingly, when the deadline for distributing wealth began to come to an end, the Finney Foundation refused to extend it, choosing instead to allocate more funds to high-risk, but also high-return programs. The former billionaire himself explained this acceleration to the deadline by saying that his Fund does not have a task to stay in business, and money should be distributed every time the necessary opportunity presents itself.
As a result, on September 16, during a video conference at Zoom, Chuck Feeney said his farewell word, finally closing his Fund.
By the end of his life, he turned from a billionaire into a practically poor man, who in 2012 had property (mainly expressed in rather modest apartments and houses) for only $2 million and did not even own a car (which is nonsense for the United States).
Nevertheless, he had said before that he would like to die a poor man.
Recently, private charity in the world has been criticized — and sometimes deservedly so. It’s no secret that many charitable foundations that accumulate tens of billions of dollars are in no hurry to part with them. Billionaires and large corporations, not being the technical owners of this money, continue to control it, and charity, among other things, is a great way to get a solid tax break.
Such pseudo – benevolence, which is beneficial for business, especially among the new billionaires in the field of high-tech and the Internet, is increasing, but the exhaust from it is less and less useful for society. The story of Chuck Feeney shows that philanthropy can be quite sincere and honest and in many ways rehabilitates this world-old phenomenon.