Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
Chuck Feeney’s story is a true American success story of working hard, making lots of money, and giving most of it away.
According to Forbes magazine: “Few living people have given away more and no one at his wealth level has ever given their fortune away so completely during their lifetime.”
Feeney was born during the Great Depression and joined the United States Air Force in the 1950s, where he earned money by selling duty-free liquor to military personnel. Duty-free means you don’t have to pay taxes on what you are buying, as long as you are taking it out of the country where you bought it. Feeney turned duty-free shopping into a huge business, founding the Duty-Free Shopping Group to sell expensive tax-free goods to travelers.
Feeney never wanted to be rich. He said: “I set out to work hard, not to get rich.” And when he found himself with millions of dollars, he decided to give most of it away – secretly. Even the charities who were receiving an enormous amount of money did not know who it was coming from.
He set aside a good chunk of money for himself, his first wife, and his children, and then, in 1984 he put the rest of his money into a foundation called The Atlantic Philanthropies, which supports health and public policy causes such as dementia research and immigration reform in several countries around the world. He started a university in Ireland, where his family is from, and recently, he gave $27 million to help get the Affordable Care Act passed, which now provides affordable health care for all U.S. citizens. Atlantic Philanthropies plans to give away a total of $7.5 billion before it closes in 2016.
For 13 years, Feeney’s donations were kept secret. Then, in 1997, he was caught up in a lawsuit that threatened to reveal his generosity, and so he let the New York Times interview him and he told them all about his donations. Like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, Feeney has also signed The Giving Pledge, promising to give the bulk of his wealth to charity.