89-Year-Old Billionaire, Chuck Feeney, Has Given Away His Fortune Over The Last Four Decades

89-Year-Old Billionaire, Chuck Feeney, Has Given Away His Fortune Over The Last Four Decades

Chuck Feeney, the co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers, hopes that other ultra-wealthy people would follow his example and "give it all away."

Image Source: Facebook/Charles Francis Feeney

Image Source: Facebook/Charles Francis Feeney

On one hand, we have multi-billionaire Donald Trump who paid just $750 in federal taxes in 2016 which is far less than what an average American resident has to pay. On the opposite end is Chuck Feeney, a billionaire who has finally achieved his dream of giving away his huge fortune of $8 billion (£6 billion). The 89-year-old is an Irish American business mogul, who has inspired many with his philanthropic deeds, has been working towards one goal- "striving for zero...to give it all away." For the past 38 years, he has been making donations to universities and charities across the world with the money he made from his duty-free shopping empire and most of it was done secretly. 


Feeney, the grandson of immigrants, comes from a working-class family in New Jersey. After co-founding the Duty Free Shoppers he amassed a huge fortune but never quite enjoyed lavish spending. Leading a remarkably frugal lifestyle, he never bought a home for himself or even a car. In addition to owning only a pair of shoes, Feeney always flies economy class even though his colleagues and family members are traveling in business class on the same plane. It was Andrew Carnegie’s essay The Gospel of Wealth, which declared "the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor" that influenced the business mogul greatly. During a rare interview with Ireland's RTE in 2010, Feeney said, "I have always empathized with people who have it tough in life. And the world is full of people who don’t get enough to eat."


Feeney hopes that more wealthy people would follow suit and use their money to resolve prevailing problems in the world. "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," he would say according to The Guardian. The president and chief executive of The Atlantic Philanthropies Christopher Oechsli revealed that Feeney never believed in preaching his views to other billionaires of the world "But he would scratch his head and say 'how many yachts or pairs of shoes do you need? What is it all this wealth accumulation about, when you can look about you and see such tremendous needs.'"


The philanthropist would not criticize anyone for not donating more "but he would be dumbfounded – what is all that wealth about if you’re not going to do good with it?" Many ultra-rich people today hail him as a role model and Bill Gates is just one of them. Gates said that Feeney was the inspiration behind the $30 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Giving While Living Pledge, which has over 90 of the world's richest enlisted to give away their wealth to charity. "I remember meeting him before starting the Giving Pledge," said Gates. "He told me we should encourage people not to give just 50% but as much as possible during their lifetime. No one is a better example of that than Chuck. Many people talk to me about how he inspired them. It is truly amazing."


For over 30 years, Oechsli worked for Feeney and said that his boss did try living the life of luxury but ultimately felt that it did not suit him. "He had nice places [homes] and nice things. He tried it on and it wasn’t for him," said Oeschsli. " He doesn’t own a place, doesn’t own a car. 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 really who Chuck has been." When his Duty Free Shoppers (DFS) Group empire was bringing in loads of money in the 1980s Feeney decided to give up all his wealth and use it to help others. In 1982 he finally set up a foundation called The Atlantic Philanthropies in secret and transferred all his wealth into it. 


This month he achieved his goal of giving away all his money as he signed the papers to formally dissolve the foundation. Feeney, who is currently in poor health, expressed his satisfaction with having achieved his goal "on my watch." He also had a message for the super-rich across the globe who have pledged to bestow a portion of their fortunes only after they have died. "To those wondering about Giving While Living: try it, you’ll like it," said Feeney from his rented apartment. Feeney, who was stated as the "man who arguably has done more for Ireland than anyone since Saint Patrick" in 2012 by Forbes, donated over $3.7 billion to higher education institutions, $870m to human rights groups, and  $1.9bn to projects in Ireland, as well as the Republic.

He always wondered, "What am I going to do with it [all the money]. Like many of the wealthy people today they have [so much] money that they wouldn’t be able to spend it." Maybe, if more of the ultra-rich people begin thinking like him, we could find a solution to the world's biggest problems. 

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