Charles “Chuck” Feeney – the worlds greatest philanthropist
Charles F. Feeney (born April 23, 1931 in Elizabeth, N.J.), an Irish-American businessman and philanthropist. He made his fortune as a co-founder with Robert Warren Miller of the Duty Free Shoppers Group.
Feeney, an Irish-American with dual citizenship, was born in New Jersey during the Great Depression. He served as a U.S. Air Force radio operator during the Korean War, and began his career selling duty-free liquor to US Naval personnel at Mediterranean ports in the 1950s.
He attended the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.
Feeney has four daughters and one son. Two of the daughters are Diane V. Feeney and Leslie D. Feeney Baily. He married twice. His first wife, Danielle, from France, retained 100 million USD and a number of mansions and apartments after their 1990 separation and subsequent divorce.
“I had one idea that never changed in my mind — that you should use your wealth to help people. I try to live a normal life, the way I grew up,” Feeney said. “I set out to work hard, not to get rich.”
Feeney founded Atlantic Philanthropies in 1982, and in 1984, having made provision for each of his children and for his first wife, as well as very modest provision for himself, transferred the bulk of his wealth to the foundation.
Up to 2005, AP had given away $3.547 billion.
Feeney has been a major donor to his alma mater Cornell University, which has received over $580 million in direct and AP gifts. He has also donated around $1 billion to education in Ireland, mostly to third-level institutions, most notably the University of Limerick, and over 220 million to causes in Vietnam.
A 2003 article in Irish America magazine noted that Feeney’s personal donations to Sinn Féin amounted to over a quarter of a million dollars, making him the organization’s largest American donor at the time. The donations were personal ones, made outside of his foundations.
Anna Bligh’s struggle with out-of-control health costs received an unexpected bailout yesterday, when the secretive philanthropic svengali Chuck Feeney stumped up the biggest-ever donation in Australian history.
Feeney, the subject of this Australian Story in 2007, famously gave up his personal fortune in 1984, gleaned from selling duty free goods to British expats at the old Hong Kong Airport, to work behind the scenes to fund worthy projects. Feeney doesn’t live in Australia — his main connection to the country is through old tennis mate Ken Fletcher.
With Bligh and Treasurer Wayne Swan on hand to celebrate his largesse, the soft-spoken Irishman pledged $100 million to three medical institutes, bringing to $270 million the total amount given by his private donations behemoth Atlantic Philanthropies over the past decade. The donation is all the more extraordinary given the leverage extracted from government — the Queensland and federal governments will match Feeney’s funding to the tune of $177 million and $325 million respectively.
The re-emergence of Feeney was unexpected, after Atlantic provided notice in mid-2003 that that it had shifted its funding priorities away from Australia to focus instead on the developing world and needy communities in the US and UK. However, it had been quietly donating locally since then, with $50 million distributed in 2005.
So what does it say about home-grown philanthropy when a quiet Irish American can suddenly set local records?
“It is absolutely tragic that greatest philanthropist in Australia doesn’t live in Australia, is not married to an Australian and whose only connection to Australia is via an old tennis mate”, philanthropy activist and former Microsoft Australia chief, Daniel Petre, told Crikey.
The man pulling a worn blue blazer over his head in mock modesty was none other than the onetime billionaire Chuck Feeney.
Never heard of him? No surprise there.
Over the years, the frugal 76-year-old has made a fetish out of anonymity. He declined to name his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, after himself, registering the $8-billion behemoth in Bermuda to avoid U.S. disclosure laws. He lavishes hundreds of millions of dollars on universities and hospitals but won’t allow even a small plaque identifying him as a donor.
“We just didn’t want to be blowing our horn,” he explains in a rare interview at his daughter’s Upper East Side apartment.
The party was to celebrate a biography of the elusive tycoon by Irish journalist Conor O’Clery, titled The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune, published last fall.
Feeney said he cooperated with the book and submitted to an interview because he is driven by a new public mission: nudging hedge fund heavies and silicon scions into “giving while living.”
It is the latest trend in philanthropy and one that he, more than anyone, jump-started several years before billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren E. Buffett followed suit.
Feeney, a founder of the conglomerate Duty Free Shoppers, said he wants to set an example for people who have “a jillion dollars. … I mean, honestly, if you ask them, ‘Tell me what you’re doing with your money this week?’ they couldn’t spend a fraction of what they’re accruing.”
Most foundations, set up after the donor’s death, dribble out barely more than 5 percent of their assets each year, the legal minimum.
But Feeney, raised in a blue-collar Irish Catholic family in New Jersey, quietly transferred the bulk of his fortune to his foundation when he was 53. Then, eight years ago, he instructed his board to pay out every last dollar by 2016.
So far: $4-billion down, $4-billion to go. Atlantic Philanthropies is spreading its wealth at the rate of more than $400-million a year, more than any U.S.-based family foundation apart from Bill & Melinda Gates and Ford.
O’Clery, former international business editor of the Irish Times, spent two years traveling with Feeney and investigating a financial empire that had been sheathed for decades in obsessive secrecy. He unfolds a story of ferocious entrepreneurship that operated, he concluded, “on the edge of legality but was never corrupt.”
After graduating from college, Feeney, who had served in the U.S. Air Force in Japan during the Korean War, moved to Europe. With a partner he knew from Cornell, Robert Miller, he began peddling duty-free liquor to sailors.
The two went on to sell cars to American soldiers based in Europe and Asia. Eventually, profiting from a postwar boom in tourism, they built Duty Free Shoppers into the biggest retailer of liquor and cigarettes in the world and a global purveyor of luxury goods.
Their ingenious schemes stretched the limits of the duty-free concept.
As O’Clery explains, Duty Free Shoppers allowed a tourist in Mexico, for instance, to peruse a catalog and choose a cashmere sweater to be shipped from Amsterdam to his home in the United States. Leaving Mexico, he could declare the faraway sweater as “unaccompanied baggage” and avoid paying duty. Feeney and Miller operated with Swiss bank accounts and offshore headquarters in Lichtenstein, Monaco and the Netherlands Antilles. They registered assets in the names of Danielle, Feeney’s French wife, and Miller’s Ecuadorean wife, Chantal, as a precaution against the long arm of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
Today, Feeney makes no apologies. “Most large companies structure their affairs so that they minimize their tax payments,” he says, rocking back on an armchair in his daughter’s apartment. “As long as you do it within the law, it’s okay.”
IT’S SAD to see a good man suckered, and the Irish-American Charles (Chuck) Feeney is a very good man. Feeney could afford to live like an emperor, yet he owns no property, flies economy class, dresses off-the-peg and wears a $15 plastic watch.
Having given his children modest endowments, he is engaged in the considerable job of giving his enormous fortune away before he dies: “giving while living” is his motto. Yet, though he is highly intelligent and well-read – and became a billionaire through flair, courage and industry – Feeney has been badly suckered.
No philanthropist has poured money into Ireland like Feeney. Between 1992 and 2002, his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, gave $702m – $548m of which was to the Republic. If the presidents of our universities don’t say prayers daily in gratitude for Feeney’s munificence, they are an ungrateful bunch. They have no other way of rewarding him, for Feeney hates publicity and wants neither honorary degrees nor buildings named after him.
Feeney’s areas of interest dictate where and on what Atlantic Philanthropies focus. In 2004, of total grant funds of $165.7m, 43 per cent went to projects in the US, 17 per cent to Vietnam, 13 per cent to South Africa and – considering the size of our little island – a whopping 13 per cent ($22.1m) to the Republic and 2 per cent ($3.2m) to Northern Ireland. The charity’s new focus is on disadvantaged children and youth, ageing, population health, reconciliation and human rights.
There’s no doubting the integrity and compassion of Feeney and the board of Atlantic Philanthropies. The problem is that the republican movement has taken cynical advantage of them.
Feeney was introduced to Gerry Adams in the early Nineties. “I talked to him and I liked him,” said Feeney. “He was very straightforward.”
Feeney spent much time and money encouraging the republican movement down the political path: from 1995 for three years he, personally, (Atlantic Philanthropies is debarred by its constitution from funding political movements) provided the Sinn Fein office in Washington with $720,000.
“The goal was to establish a Washington office to put Sinn Fein on a respectable platform where they could say ‘this is what Sinn Fein does, we’re not the IRA’.”
It was during this period that the IRA, under Adams, broke its ceasefire with a bomb at Canary Wharf that killed two newsagents.
Feeney has to be too shrewd to have gone on believing Sinn Fein and the IRA to be separate, but he was undaunted. Post-Agreement, he began directing large sums of money towards rehabilitating green and orange paramilitaries. In 2002, for instance, £1,968,000 went towards helping politically motivated ex-prisoners become involved in “positive political and community development”.
That same year, £85,000 was awarded to Community Restorative Justice Ireland (CRJI) under a programme called ‘Equality, Rights and Justice’, followed in 2003 by a three-year grant totalling £926,000. Northern Ireland Alternatives (NIA), its loyalist equivalent, got £860,000.
Feeney’s objective was to stop the knee-cappings and beatings, and worse, by providing some kind of non-violent community alternative while policing was being sorted out. Three years on, while NIA is cooperating with the police, CRJI refuses to do so: its 14 schemes have institutionalised parallel policing in its ghettos.
So, as Atlantic Philanthropies invested millions in human rights programmes, it had been suckered into bank-rolling people who interrogate children suspected of anti-social behaviour and intimidate those who offend them.
Harvey P. Dale, Founding President
University Professor of Philanthropy and the Law, New York University School of Law
Director, National Center on Philanthropy and the Law
Christine V. Downton
Former Partner, Pareto Partners
Charles F. Feeney, Founding Chair
Chair of Medical Microbiology, School of Medicine, University College Dublin
Gara LaMarche, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Atlantic Philanthropies
Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Deputy Chair
Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Elizabeth J. McCormack
Advisor, Rockefeller Family & Associates
Thomas N. Mitchell, Deputy Chair
Director, Trinity Foundation
Former Provost, Trinity College Dublin
Frederick A. O. Schwarz, Jr., Chair
Senior Counsel, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, New York
Senior Counsel, The Brennan Center for Justice
Chair, New York City Campaign Finance Board
Chairman of Actis
Partner in Permira
Michael I. Sovern
President Emeritus and Chancellor Kent Professor of Law, Columbia University, New York
Cummings V. Zuill
Senior Vice President, Bank of Bermuda, Retired
Bermuda Charity Commissioner
ATLANTIC Philanthropies, the American group headed by multi-millionaire Sinn Fein sympathiser Chuck Feeny and which funds restoratice justice schemes in Northern Ireland, has pulled the plug on money for the Centre for Public Inquiry. The CPI is headed by Frank Connolly, the brother of Niall Connolly, one of the Colombia 3 who is wanted by the government there for his alleged role in training FARC guerillas there with an IRA team.
Is a political party in Ireland. The current party, led by Gerry Adams, was formed following a split in January 1970 and traces its origins back to the original Sinn Féin party formed in 1905. It is a major party of Irish republicanism and its political ideology is left wing. The party has historically been associated with the Provisional IRA. The name is Irish for “ourselves” or “we ourselves”,although it is frequently mistranslatedas “ourselves alone”.
At the European Parliamentary elections 2009, Sinn Fein topped the polls in Northern Ireland , making them Northern Ireland’s largest party for the first time . Sinn Féin is currently the second-largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, where it has four ministerial posts (including deputy First Minister) in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive, and the fifth-largest party in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland.
Sinn Féin is the largest group in the Republican wing of Irish nationalism and is closely associated with the IRA, with the Irish Government alleging that senior members of Sinn Féin have held posts on the IRA Army Council. However the SF leadership has denied these claims.
A republican document of the early 1980s states, “Both Sinn Féin and the IRA play different but converging roles in the war of national liberation. The Irish Republican Army wages an armed campaign… Sinn Féin maintains the propaganda war and is the public and political voice of the movement”.
Sinn Féin organiser Danny Morrison at the party’s Ard Fheis (Annual Conference) in 1981, said:
“Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?”
The current British Government stated in 2005 that “we had always said all the way through we believed that Sinn Féin and the IRA were inextricably linked and that had obvious implications at leadership level”.
chuck is a very interesting man to research..the greatest philanthropist of our time and hardly anyone knew it was him till the last few years..i have been unable to come up with anything decidely bad about chuck..he appears to be a great guy who is very generous..his ties with sinn fein are dubious at best..sinn fein’s links to the IRA are well known..but if any of our readers from the UK are able to give a little bit more information about this man it would be appreciated..he has given away 4 billion dollars in his time, and will give away another 4 billion through atlantic philanthropies..i note a harvard lady on his board and also one from the a rockefeller charity