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    The man with no business sense makes and gives away $10 billion

    Charles (Chuck) Feeney (1931- ), who came from a New Jersey blue collar working family to amass a multi-billion business dollar fortune, before giving it all to philanthropy, was advised to forget business and consider a career in journalism.
    Feeney, a student of hotel administration at Cornell University, had submitted a paper on money and banking. In a New York Times interview (November 26, 1997), he told columnist Maureen Dowd:

    “I got my paper back with a note from the professor: “You have a flair for writing, but no knowledge of the subject matter. Consider journalism.”

    Fenney left school at age 17 to join the U.S. Air Force. He served as a radio operator during the Korean War, and in the late 1950s, sold duty-free liquor to U.S. naval personnel at Mediterranean ports. That experience would later lead to his business fortune.

    After his military service, Feeney attended Cornell. In 1960, he and partner Robert Warren established a Hong Kong-based business, Duty Free Shoppers Group. DFS expanded rapidly, with a worldwide chain of off-airport duty free stores. The chain grew into the world’s largest travel retailer. Feeney was soon a multi-millionaire, and began giving his money to philanthropy.

    “I had one idea that never changed in my mind—that you should use your wealth to help people,” Fenney later told his biographer, Connor O’Cleary. “I set out to work hard, not get rich.”

    Feeney established his philanthropic foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies (AP), in 1982. Unlike enduring philanthropies that give grants from their investment earnings, AP was set up to give all of it away during Feeney’s lifetime. After modest provision for his family and himself (Freeney is known for his frugality and modest lifestyle; he rides subways, flies economy class, and sports a $15 wristwatch) he gave all his fortune to AP, including his 38.75 percent interest in Duty Free Shops.

    With worldwide operations, AP’s grants are focused on aging, youth, human rights, poverty, and population health.

    In 1996, the French luxury group purchased the philanthropy’s interest in Duty Free Shops for $1.63 billion. Feeney arranged for $26 million of that to go to 2,400 long-term DFS employees, an average of almost $108,000 each.

    By this time, Feeney and his philanthropy had given away some $600 million— anonymously. A lawsuit launched by his former partner threatened to end the anonymity. Feeney decided to go public himself, with a New York Times interview published January 23, 1997.

    By 2010, AP had made grants totaling $5 billion. The figure is expected to reach $9 billion by the time it’s wound up in 2017. Including donations in addition to AP, Feeney will likely have given away more than $10 billion.

     

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