Why Former Billionaire Chuck Feeney Will Die Poor

Matt Lane

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3Q1X5g_0XsJN0nX00Screenshot from “Secret Billionaire: The Chuck Feeney Story

Chuck Feeney is one of those business tycoons you’ve probably never heard of.

Born to a working class family in New Jersey, Feeney co-founded the ubiquitous travel retailer Duty Free Shoppers. His lifetime wealth is estimated at over $8 billion.

But there’s something unusual about his story: Feeney wants to die poor.

As of September 14th, 2020, he has successfully donated the majority of his wealth. Today, his net worth is just $2 million, the amount he’s set aside for retirement.

And he couldn’t be happier.

Striking It Rich

Feeney started Duty Free Shoppers (DFS Group) in 1960 with his college roommate Robert Miller.

The thesis was straightforward: sell luxury goods to travelers at a markup.

These days, you can’t walk through an airport without passing a Duty Free Shoppers store. But in the early days, they focused their efforts on Asia, a particularly lucrative market at the time. Retail prices on Western goods often sold for three times the wholesale price in Asia versus two times the wholesale price in New York.

Of course, they wouldn’t stay in just one part of the world for long. Business grew rapidly, and soon they were dominating the international market.

It all paid off in 1996, when LVMH acquired DFS Group for a staggering $2.47 billion.

Giving It All Away

Technically, the sale made Feeney $1.6 billion richer.

But the money never touched his personal account. Instead, it went straight to his charity Atlantic Philanthropies.

Over the last four decades, Feeney has used money as a force for good. Atlantic’s resume includes donating…

  • over $630 million to fund health research at the University of California, San Francisco
  • over $650 million to fund education initiatives at his alma mater Cornell University
  • $382 million to improve public health and education in Vietnam
  • $570 million to support peace efforts in Northern Ireland
  • $1.5 billion to advance higher education, human rights and public services in the Republic of Ireland
  • $62 million to advance criminal justice reform in the U.S.

Head to their website for the full list of donations.

Altogether Feeney has donated over $8 billion.

His philanthropic spirit has inspired some of this generation’s most influential businessmen to give their own money away, including billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

In 2010, Buffett and Gates launched The Giving Pledge, an initiative that aims to donate $1.2 trillion. In 2014, Buffett called Feeney his “hero.”

Five Insights from the Life of Chuck Feeney

Why is Feeney so generous? What can we learn from him about building wealth?

While private by nature (he made all his donations anonymously until 1997), Feeney’s few public quotes reveal deep insights on business, finance and life.

Here are five of his most influential ideas.

1. “I always tried to live my life as though nothing changed. People would say, ‘You can have a Rolls-Royce’. I’d say to that, ‘What do I want with a Rolls-Royce when I can have a Volkswagen or a bike?’ Some people get carried away with the juice.”

Despite his once massive net worth, Feeney has always lived a modest life.

As New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer learned in 2017, Feeney and his wife live in a rented San Francisco apartment. He also flew coach until he was 75, and still has a habit of carrying his books in a paltry plastic bag.

When your income increases, it’s tempting to upgrade your lifestyle: bigger house, faster car, the whole nine yards.

But if you haven’t achieved financial freedom yet, frugality is a must for building wealth. Every penny you invest — whether it’s in stocks, real estate or your own business—compounds in value in the long run.

Spend lavishly, however, and you’ll work until the day you die.

2. “I believe strongly in ‘giving while living.’ I see little reason to delay giving when so much good can be achieved through supporting worthwhile causes today. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to give while you live than to give while you are dead.”

He has also said, “I’m happy when what I’m doing is helping people and unhappy when what I’m doing isn’t helping people.”

Spending money for the sake of personal gratification is not satisfying.

If you want to experience true fulfillment, you must use your wealth to benefit the less fortunate. The sooner you embrace this, the sooner you’ll be happy.

Don’t wait until you’re on your deathbed to start. You can influence the world for the better today. Whether it’s fighting world hunger, human trafficking or local poverty, there’s no shortage of causes that need your money.

3. “It is logical for a U.S. person to give their money away while they are alive, as the government will take it from you when you die in taxes.”

If the previous quote makes an emotional appeal, this one makes a rational one.

No matter how you organize your books, the government will take a chunk of your wealth through taxes — that is, unless you donate, which directly reduces your tax burden.

Would you rather choose where your money goes, or would you rather have the government decide for you?

4. “I believe that people of substantial wealth potentially create problems for future generations unless they themselves accept responsibility to use their wealth during their lifetime to help worthwhile causes.”

Alternatively, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Whether you agree with the first half of this quote or not, the fact remains that those who have the ability to influence the world have an obligation to use it for good.

In modern society, the best way to do this is arguably through building wealth, because money has the power to create change. I wrote more about this here.

5. “I simply decided I had enough money.”

This was his response when the The New York Times asked why he was giving away so much.

In our pursuit of wealth, it’s easy to become a slave to money. And when we finally achieve it, it can be hard to let it go. But the key to freedom is to master your money rather than letting it master you.

“[Money] doesn’t add anything to your life,” he explained in a 2010 documentary. “It may make life a bit more comfortable for you but I’m not uncomfortable today.

When you realize everything you truly want in your personal lifehealth, happiness, family — can be achieved without money, you gain control.

This mentality unlocks the freedom you need to give to the less fortunate.

Thank You Chuck

In an age of growing wealth inequality, Chuck Feeney represents the best of capitalism.

Although the numbers say he’s donated over $8 billion, his true impact is infinitely greater. Look no further than Buffett and Gates’ The Giving Pledge to see how his generosity is influencing others.

As someone whose life goal is to become a philanthropist, his story is inspirational to say the least.

I wish him a happy, healthy retirement.

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