For most of his life, Chuck Feeney was literally worth billions. But during the last six decades, his wealth has steadily declined, leaving him with just a fraction of the funds he’d accumulated after establishing the concept of duty-free shopping. What happened? Did he lose it all in the Great Recession? Lose it in a nasty divorce?
No. He gave it away.
Feeney has donated more than $8 billion during his lifetime to support issues close to his heart in not only the U.S., but also Australia, Europe and Asia. And he gets to improve the lives of millions because the projects he targets – higher education, public health, human rights and scientific research – affect people around the globe.
“I’m not here to tell anybody what they should do with their money – if you make your money, you do what you want with it,” says the publicity-shy New Jersey native, whose quiet generosity was “outed” about 20 years ago. “But I think there is an obligation, certainly for the ‘haves’ to reach out and see what they can do.”
While serving in the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s, Feeney and a friend from college started selling duty-free liquor to U.S. naval personnel in Asia. The business did so well that they soon expanded their line to include cars and tobacco, and their market eventually reached into Hong Kong, Europe and other points around the globe.
He and his partner eventually founded the Duty Free Shoppers Group (DFSG), which is responsible for the incredible deals many travelers find at airports worldwide.
In 1982, Feeney created a non-profit, The Atlantic Philanthropies. By that time, he owned more than a one-third stake in DFSG with a total worth of about $500 million. But unbeknownst to his partner, Robert Miller, he transferred those stakes to Atlantic. In turn, the organization began distributing funds to other organizations, but on the condition that they refrain from revealing from where the money originated.
His alma mater Cornell alone has received nearly $2 billion from Atlantic, including $7 million last year to support students doing community service work. His money has also been used to finance the construction of roughly 1,000 buildings across five continents – yet none bear his name.
“The most important thing for him now is to spread the gospel of giving while living and to influence more people who have money to give it away, and to give it away wisely,” said John Healy, former CEO and president of The Atlantic Philanthropies.
Watch the video below to hear more about this incredibly humble and generous philanthropist, and share to spread his message of giving while living!