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Chuck Feeney


Chuck Feeney

"Charles Feeney" redirects here. For the American baseball executive, see Chub Feeney.
Charles F. Feeney
Born (1931-04-23) April 23, 1931 (age 83)
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Nationality Irish-American
Citizenship Irish-American (dual citizenship)
Education Cornell University School of Hotel Administration
Occupation Businessman and philanthropist
Known for The Atlantic Philanthropies
Home town Elizabeth, New Jersey, United States
Spouse(s) Danielle (divorced); Helga
Children Juliette, Caroleen, Diane, Leslie and Patrick
Awards Cornell Icon of Industry Award, UCSF Medal, and Irish-America Magazine’s Hall of Fame.

Charles Francis Feeney (born April 23 1931 in Elizabeth, New Jersey)[1] is an Irish-American businessman and philanthropist and the founder of The Atlantic Philanthropies, one of the largest private foundations in the world. He made his fortune as a co-founder, with Robert Warren Miller, of the Duty Free Shoppers Group. The concept of "duty free shopping"—offering high-end concessions to travelers, free of import taxes—was in its infancy when, along with Miller, Feeney founded DFS on November 7, 1960. DFS began operations in Hong Kong (where it retains its corporate headquarters), later expanding to Europe and other continents. DFS' first major breakthrough came in the early 1960s, when it secured the exclusive concession for duty-free sales in Hawaii, allowing it to market its products to Japanese travelers.

DFS eventually expanded to off-airport duty-free stores and large downtown Galleria stores, and became the world's largest travel retailer. In 1996, Miller's and Feeney's interests were acquired by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), the French luxury goods group, for $1.63 billion. Miller still retains a 31% share of the company. In March 2011, Feeney was inducted into Irish America magazine's Hall of Fame.[2] In 1997, Time Magazine said: “Feeney's beneficence already ranks among the grandest of any living American."[3]


Feeney, an Irish-American with dual citizenship,[4] was born in New Jersey during the Great Depression and came from a modest background of blue collar Irish-American parents in Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA. His ancestry traces to County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. He served as a U.S. Air Force radio operator during the Korean War, and began his career selling duty-free liquor to US Naval personnel at Mediterranean ports in the 1950s.[5]

He graduated from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.[1] In 2010 he received the Cornell Icon of Industry Award.[6]

In 2012, in an historic event, all the universities of Ireland, North and South, jointly conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Laws on Feeney.[7] During the year, he also received the Republic of Ireland’s Presidential Distinguished Service Award for Irish Abroad,[8] and the UCSF Medal[9] for outstanding personal contributions to the University of California, San Francisco’s health science mission.

Feeney has four daughters and one son. He married twice. His first wife, named Danielle, is French. His second wife is named Helga.

Known for his frugality, Feeney flies coach class, owns neither a home nor a car, and wears a $15 watch.[10]


Feeney was a co-founder of the Duty Free Shoppers Group (DFS Group), which earned him his fortune.[11] When he sold it to LVMH, he set aside $26 million to give to 2400 long-term staff.



"I had one idea that never changed in my mind—that you should use your wealth to help people. I try to live a normal life, the way I grew up," Feeney said. "I set out to work hard, not to get rich."A report explaining Feeney's "Giving While Living" approach to philanthropy and its lasting impact on the philanthropic community was issued by The Atlantic Philanthropies in 2010. It profiles Feeney as well as other philanthropists who give in this manner and the impact of their grant-making.

Feeney tries to remain under the radar while donating his accumulated wealth. He grants few interviews and seeks little prestige for his efforts.[12]


Feeney founded The Atlantic Philanthropies in 1982, and in 1984, having made provision for each of his children and his first wife, as well as a very modest provision for himself, transferred the bulk of his wealth to the foundation.

As of October 2012, Atlantic has made grants totaling more than $6.2 billion since 1982 and plans to spend its remaining $1.3 billion by 2016.[13] The Atlantic Philanthropies grant-making supports health and social projects in Australia, Bermuda, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Vietnam. It is one of the largest charitable donors in each of the countries in which it operates,[14] and is the single largest funder of ageing and of comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.[15][16][17] In December 2011, Atlantic committed a $350 million gift to help build the campus for Cornell University’s new high-tech graduate school on Roosevelt Island in New York City.[10]


Feeney has been a major donor to his alma mater Cornell University, which has received over $950 million in direct and Atlantic gifts, including a donation of $350 million towards the New York Tech Campus.[10] He has also donated around $1 billion to education in Ireland, mostly to third-level institutions, most notably the University of Limerick,[1] and over $350 million to causes in Vietnam.

The Giving Pledge

In February 2011 Feeney became a signatory to The Giving Pledge.[18] In his letter to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the founders of The Giving Pledge, Feeney writes, "I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living - to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition. More importantly, today's needs are so great and varied that intelligent philanthropic support and positive interventions can have greater value and impact today than if they are delayed when the needs are greater."[19]

Books and articles

Feeney first went public about his philanthropy in 1997, in an article published by The New York Times;[4] at the time, he decided to end his anonymity when it became apparent that a dispute with Robert Miller, his former DFS partner, over the sale of DFS Group was likely to lead to a lawsuit that would reveal his donations anyway.[4]

Feeney cooperated in the publication of a biography about him by Conor O'Clery, The Billionaire Who Wasn't: How Chuck Feeney Made and Gave Away a Fortune Without Anyone Knowing (ISBN 978-1-58648-391-3). Feeney is also the subject of a documentary by RTÉ Factual entitled "Secret Billionaire: The Chuck Feeney Story."[20]


External links

  • Interview with Feeney from the Atlantic Philanthropies Web site

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