Out of Sight, Till Now, and Giving Away Billions

In yet another example of the new wave & breed of philanthropists, Feeney made his fortune in duty-free shops. In Out of Sight, Till Now, and Giving Away Billions, O’Cleary gives a taste of what is in Feeney’s upcoming biography The Billionaire Who Wasnt: How Chuck Feeney Made and Gave Away a Fortune Without Anyone Knowing . I love to hear about people who become successful, give back and keep their perspective on life, values and money.

Last year, the foundation Mr. Feeney created, the Atlantic Philanthropies, gave $458 million in grants around the world, more than any United States charity except two, the Ford and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations. Atlantic,
  and small predecessors also started by Mr. Feeney, have given $4 billion since 1982; the plan is to give away the remaining assets — now $4 billion, but growing every day — by 2017.

Despite this record, Mr. Feeney is little known, a result of the web of intrigues that he fashioned to disguise his identity, his wealth and his giving. Atlantic does not appear in the annual rankings of the biggest American philanthropies because it was set up in Bermuda, to avoid the disclosures required in the United States. A rare glimpse of Mr. Feeney’s story emerged a decade ago during a business dispute, but he quickly disappeared from the news.

Now, however, Mr. Feeney, who is 76 years old and grew up in Elizabeth, N.J., is stepping out from behind his veil. He cooperated with a biographer, the journalist Conor O’Clery, whose book, “The Billionaire Who
Wasn’t,” is being published by Public Affairs. In it, he describes how Mr. Feeney and his partners went into business nearly 50 years ago selling five-pack boxes of liquor to American sailors in ports around Europe, and expanded into a worldwide empire of duty-free airport shops — often one quick step ahead of police or immigration authorities.

As told by Mr. O’Clery, Mr. Feeney’s life makes a compelling saga, a fortune built on consumption by a man who is defiantly indifferent to it; what Donald Trump would be if he led his life backward. Mr. Feeney buys clothes off the rack. He owns no homes, but stays in apartments around the world rented by the foundation. He flies coach. He rides the subway or takes cabs. His five children — four daughters, one son — worked summers as waiters, hotel maids,
cashiers.

3 thoughts on “Out of Sight, Till Now, and Giving Away Billions

  1. Maybe you should check out Daniel Ludwig. If you don’t know who Daniel Ludwig was. He was the richest person you never heard of. He lived into his 90’s and made his fortune in shipping.

    When Daniel was a child in the early 1900’s, he found a sunk tug boat in South Haven Michigan. He paid pennies for the boat, restored it and leased it out. He did this before the age of 12.

    Daniel Ludwig died and left billions to his foundation. Enough money so that the foundation would never have to ask for outside contributions.

    Daniel Ludwig was one ofthe first of these type of rich people. His biography is out of print and last time I looked, it was going for over $100 on eBay.

  2. And interestingly enough, Mr. Feeney’s partner in Duty Free Shops was Robert Miller, who owns houses all over the world, races yachts, and whose daughters, “The Miller Sisters” were raised in high luxury and married a Getty, the Crown Prince of Greece, and a minor Germany princeling respectively. Apparently the business dispute that exposed Mr. Feeney was his decision to sell his stake in DFS to give more money to charity…

  3. Actually, you’ve pretty much got it all wrong about Daniel Ludwig. The tug he supposedly restored was done later in his teens, and largely with his dad’s contacts. Also, though he was a stupendous businessman, he cared not one jot for charity. He gave nothing away during his lifetime, in fact he was known for his ruthless attitude to hoarding and generating money, and the foundation was set up solely as a tax-evasion measure. That it became a genuinely philanthropic entity after his death was neither here nor there – not a dime went to charity til he was too dead to do anything about it!

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