Chuck Feeney

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"Charles Feeney" redirects here. For the American baseball executive, see Chub Feeney.
Chuck Feeney
Born Charles Francis Feeney
(1931-04-23) April 23, 1931 (age 85)
Elizabeth, New Jersey, U.S.
Citizenship Irish-American (dual citizenship)
Education Cornell University School of Hotel Administration
Occupation Businessman and philanthropist
Known for The Atlantic Philanthropies
Spouse(s) Danielle (divorced); Helga
Children Juliette, Caroleen, Diane, Leslie and Patrick
Awards Cornell Icon of Industry Award, Honorary Doctorate of Laws from all universities in Ireland, North and South, Republic of Ireland’s Presidential Distinguisted Service Award for Irish Abroad, UCSF Medal, Irish-America Magazine’s Hall of Fame and The Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award For Philanthropy.

Charles Francis "Chuck" Feeney (born April 23, 1931)[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 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. 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]

Personal life[edit]

Charles Feeney, an Irish-American dual citizen,[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, in the United States. 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] and was a brother of Alpha Sigma Phi. In 2010 he received the Cornell Icon of Industry Award.[6]

In 2012, all the universities of Ireland, North and South, jointly conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Laws on Feeney.[7] During the year, he also received 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 has married twice. His first wife, named Danielle, is French. His second wife is named Helga. He has been noted for his frugality.[10][11]


Feeney was a co-founder of the Duty Free Shoppers Group (DFS Group), which earned him his fortune.[12] In 1984, Feeney transferred his entire 38.75% ownership stake in DFS, worth $1.6 billion, to what became the Atlantic Philanthropies.[10]



"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."[5] 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 shuns publicity while donating his accumulated wealth. He grants few interviews.[13]


Feeney founded The Atlantic Philanthropies in 1982, and in 1984, having made provision for himself, each of his children and his first wife, he 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.[14] The Atlantic Philanthropies grant-making supports health and social projects in Australia, Bermuda, Northern Ireland, the 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,[15] and is the single largest funder of ageing and of comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.[16][17][18] 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.[11] In October 2015, Feeney gave a multiyear $177 million grant to establish the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) at UC San Francisco and Trinity College Dublin to help with dementia research.[19]


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.[11] 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[edit]

In February 2011, Feeney became a signatory to The Giving Pledge.[20] 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."[21]

Books and articles[edit]

Before 1997 no one knew of Feeney's philanthropy. That year in an article published by The New York Times,[4] 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."[22]

Video clips[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Jim Dwyer, New York Times, Out of Sight, Till Now, and Giving Away Billions, September 26, 2007. Retrieved September 30, 2007.
  2. ^ Romano, Kristin. "The Billionaire Who Quietly and Selflessly Gave it All Away", Irish America magazine, March 10, 2011. Accessed March 22, 2011. "Charles “Chuck” Feeney has amassed billions of dollars in wealth. However, he doesn’t own an opulent house, a car or a Rolex. He prefers taking cabs, riding the subway, or just walking when he is in New York."
  3. ^ "History and Founder". Atlantic Philanthropies. Retrieved 2011-06-15. 
  4. ^ a b c He Gave Away $600 Million, and No One Knew, a January 23, 1997 article by Judith Miller from The New York Times
  5. ^ a b Book details billionaire's secret philanthropy, a September 19, 2007 Reuters story via
  6. ^ "Cornell Chronicle: Hotel School to honor industry icons". 2010-05-27. Retrieved 2011-06-15. 
  7. ^ Minihan, Mary (7 September 2012). "Universities honour their 'Renaissance man' Feeney". The Irish Times. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  8. ^ O'Shea, James (6 September 2012). "Don Keough, Chuck Feeney, Loretta Brennan Glucksman recognized with Irish gov awards". Irish Central. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  9. ^ Kim, Leland. "Four Successful Innovators Earn UCSF's Highest Honor". The University of California San Francisco Website. The University of California San Francisco. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Bertoni, Steven (September 18, 2012). "Chuck Feeney: The Billionaire Who Is Trying To Go Broke". Forbes. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c Pérez-Peña, Richard (December 19, 2011). "Cornell Chosen to Build Science School in New York City". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Reclusive Philanthropist Steps into Spotlight" from the NPR website
  13. ^ "Chuck Feeney: The Billionaire Who Is Trying To Go Broke". Forbes. Retrieved 2013-09-08. 
  14. ^ Bertoni, Steve (8 October 2012). "Chuck Feeney: The Billionaire Who Is Trying To Go Broke". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  15. ^ "Giving while living makes sense - Dallas Business Journal". Retrieved 2013-11-08. 
  16. ^ Anft, Michael (2005-11-24). "Getting on Board With Boomers - Regeneration - The Chronicle of Philanthropy- Connecting the nonprofit world with news, jobs, and ideas". Retrieved 2013-11-08. 
  17. ^ "Harvard Kennedy School - Hauser Institute for Civil Society". Retrieved 2013-11-08. 
  18. ^ Preston, Caroline (2010-04-25). "Bring Odd Bedfellows Together to Promote Social Change, Foundations Urged - Conference Notebook - The Chronicle of Philanthropy- Connecting the nonprofit world with news, jobs, and ideas". Retrieved 2013-11-08. 
  19. ^ "Chuck Feeney Award to Bolster Dementia Prevention in Developing Countries". Alzforum. Alzforum. Retrieved 1 March 2016. 
  20. ^ "Letter : Charles F. Feeney : February 3, 2011" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-08. 
  21. ^ [1] Archived March 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  22. ^ "Secret Billionaire: The Chuck Feeney Story". YouTube. 2010-06-05. Retrieved 2013-11-08. 

External links[edit]