Billionaire Chuck Feeney Achieves Lifelong Goal Of Giving Away All Of His Money

After 38 years, Feeney’s philanthropic foundation has run out of the $8 billion fortune he started it on, and he was still alive to see the impact that money has made.

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Feeney is an Irish-American business mogul who was able to make billions of dollars from his duty-free shopping empire. Ever since he was first titled a billionaire he was very public about his desire to fund different charities and universities across the world until the money completely ran out. He was once quoted saying that his philanthropy foundation was always “striving for zero, to give it all away.”

As of this week, The Atlantic Philanthropies has officially run out of money. Feeney set up the foundation in secrecy back in 1982 and transferred practically all of his wealth into the funding for it. Now, at 89-years-old he was able to see all the money go to various charitable organizations and services. 

This week Feeney signed the papers to formally dissolve the foundation in its entirety, and while Feeney himself is in poor health currently, he claimed that he was “very satisfied with completing this on [his] watch.” For other billionaires throughout the world, Feeney recommended giving away as much of what they have while they’re still alive to see it, especially considering billionaires have the ability to solve some of the world’s biggest problems with the snap of a finger if they chose. 

“Wealth brings responsibility, people must define themselves, or feel a responsibility to use some of their assets to improve the lives of their fellow humans, or else create intractable problems for future generations.”

Feeney, however, was never one to directly shame or criticise any of the world’s most famous and wealthiest people, but more so would be dumbfounded by the general excess in wealth. Christopher Oechsli is the president and chief executive of Atlantic Philanthropies, and claimed that Feeney would often be dumbfounded and say things like “how many yachts or pairs of shoes do you need, what is all that wealth about if you’re not going to do good with it?”

He specifically discussed Jeff Bezos – the founder of Amazon and world’s richest person who has an estimated $186 billion of wealth – and thinks he should “pick a global problem that interests [him] and invest that wealth and get involved.” Feeney says that his personal philanthropic philosophy was heavily influenced by The Gospel of Wealth, an essay by Andrew Carnegie. 

One of this essay’s biggest takeaways is that “the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor,” a statement that Feeney has always remembered and tried to implement into his own business and life. This mantra followed him as well, as his friends claim that despite having access to this great fortune, he always strived to live a frugal life. 

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“I have always empathized with people who have it tough in life, and the world is full of people who don’t get to eat.”

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Feeney has never owned his own car or home and has always flown economy class when traveling despite giving his family members business class tickets on the same plane for certain trips. Oechsli has worked with Feeney for over 30 years, and claims that his boss tried to live a life of luxury at first, but it just didn’t fit his personality. 

“The stories of his frugality are true: he does have a $10 Casio watch and carry his papers in a plastic bag. That is him. That’s what he felt comfortable with and that’s who Chuck has always been.” 

Feeney’s Duty Free Shoppers Group empire began making billions of dollars in the 1980s, which was the same time period that Feeney made the choice to give away every cent he earned. He secretly would transfer all of his shares in the company to the Atlantic Philanthropies organization. This attitude towards wealth was quite the opposite of the Group’s co-founder, Robert Miller, who is currently the 293rd richest person in the world with a $6 billion fortune. 

In 1996 Feeney sold his stakes in the Duty Free Shoppers Group to luxury goods firm LVMH. A dispute between Miller and Feeney over the sale led to a court appearance that exposed the Atlantic Philanthropies organization and showed the world exactly the type of individual Feeney is; a giver. 

Specifically, Feeney and his organization have given more than $3.7 billion to various higher education institutions. He also has donated over $870 million to human rights groups such as campaigns to end the death penalty in the US and grassroot campaigns supporting the passage of Obamacare. 

As a native of Ireland, Feeney also made it a point to help out organizations in his home country. He donated close to $2 billion to various charitable organizations based in Ireland, and was fundamental in the founding of the University of Limerick. 

Feeney’s decades of generosity is what inspired Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to begin the Giving Pledge; an oath that the world’s richest people take to commit to giving away at least half of their wealth to charity in their lifetime. He’s often viewed as a hero to philanthropists everywhere and Gates himself claims that his legacy as “the secret billionaire” will stick with humanity for a lifetime.