Hansjörg Wyss

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Hansjörg Wyss
Hansjorg Wyss profile image.png
Born (1935-09-19) 19 September 1935 (age 80)
Bern, Switzerland
Residence Wilson, Wyoming, U.S.
Alma mater Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich[1]
Harvard Business School
Occupation Former CEO of Synthes
Chairman of The Wyss Foundation and The HJW Foundation
Net worth $6.1 billion
(January 2015)[2]
Children Amy Wyss

Hansjörg Wyss (pronounced HAHNZ-jorg VEES) (born 19 September 1935) is a Swiss entrepreneur and businessman. As of 2015, Wyss ranks #240 on the Forbes list of billionaires, with a net worth of approximately $6.1 billion.[2][3]

Early life and career[edit]

Wyss was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1936. His father sold mechanical calculators and his mother was a homemaker. He was raised in an apartment with two sisters.[4] After receiving a Master of Science degree in Civil and Structural Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich in 1959,[1] Wyss earned an MBA from the Harvard University Graduate School of Business in 1965. Following that, he worked in various positions in the textile industry, including plant engineer and project manager for Chrysler in Pakistan, Turkey, and the Philippines.[1][5]

Wyss also worked in the steel industry in Brussels, Belgium.[1] During his time working in that industry, Wyss ran a side business selling airplanes. Through one sale, he met a surgeon who had co-founded Swiss medical device manufacturer Synthes.[6] After that meeting, Wyss spent two years learning about the medical device industry. He founded and became president of Synthes USA in 1977.[5]

Synthes USA[edit]

In 1974, Wyss founded "Synthes USA", the US division of Synthes, a firm manufacturing Swiss-designed medical devices for orthopedic and trauma surgery. It became the third industrial partner of AO/ASIF. Synthes USA started marketing Synthes products in the USA the following year and later also in Canada.[7] Wyss later became CEO of the entire company and over the next 30 years built it into an industry giant that specialized in making plates and screws to stabilize broken bones.[citation needed]

In 2009, top executives at Synthes were indicted by United States federal prosecutors for conducting untested medical procedures on human patients without the authorization of the Food and Drug Administration. Three elderly people died. In 2009, the U.S. Attorneys for Eastern Pennsylvania formally handed down indictments. Federal prosecutors named Wyss as "Person Number 7" in the criminal conspiracy. He escaped indictment but four of Synthes' top executives went to prison. The company negotiated a plea deal in the amount of $23 million, after which Wyss sold the company for $21.3 billion in cash and stock to Johnson & Johnson.[3]


According to Forbes, Wyss is "among the most philanthropic people in the world".[8] Between 2004 and 2008, Businessweek estimated that Wyss personally donated nearly USD$277 million.[6] His giving has increased since the sale of Synthes in 2012 and in 2013 he signed The Giving Pledge, agreeing to give away the majority of his fortune.[9][8] The assets of his charitable foundations equal nearly $2 billion.[8]

His primary philanthropic causes are the environment, social justice,[9] and science,[6] but he also frequently contributes to historic projects and European museums.[8][1]

Environmental protection[edit]

As of 2015, Wyss and a charitable organization he founded, the Wyss Foundation, have donated more than $350 million to environmental protection, including conservation of national forests and other public lands in the Western United States.[10]

Wyss has stated that he became passionate about the American West and land preservation after visiting the U.S. in 1958 as a student and taking a summer job as a surveyor with the Colorado Highway Department.[10][11][4] In 1998, he created the Wyss Foundation[12] to establish and sponsor informal partnerships between non-governmental organizations and the United States government to place large swathes of land under permanent protection in the American West.[4] By 2006, via the initial efforts of the foundation, almost 4,400,000 acres (18,000 km2) of public land had been labeled as national monuments and national conservation areas.[13] The Wyss Foundation's landscape protection strategies have included assisting the purchase of mineral leases from oil and gas companies.[14][15] Other causes the Wyss Foundation supports includes river restorations,[10] ocean conservation in Peru and Canada,[9] anti-poaching efforts in Africa, and environmental journalism.[12][16] It also sponsors The Wyss Scholars Program for graduate-level education in conservation.[17][1]

In addition to the Wyss Foundation's land protection activity, in 2010, Wyss personally gave The Nature Conservancy $35 million to purchase 310,000 acres in Montana as part of one of the largest private conservation purchases in the United States.[10][11]He donated $4.25 million to The Trust for Public Land in 2013 for the purchase of oil and gas leases in Wyoming to prevent development in the Hoback Basin.[8][10]

Wyss is involved with The Wilderness Society, Rails-to-Trails,[13] and serves on the boards of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for American Progress, and the Grand Canyon Trust.[18][14][10] In 2011, Wyss won the Robert Marshall Award from The Wilderness Society for his conservation work.[4]

In January 2015, conservative U.S. news site The Daily Caller accused John Podesta, who was at the time an advisor on environmental issues to the Obama administration, of an ethics violation for pushing the advocacy agenda of a former employer, because he had previously received $87,000 as a consulting fee for work he did for Wyss' HJW Foundation in 2013 (that organization was later merged with the Wyss Foundation). It was also noted that the Wyss Foundation had previously donated $4 million to the Center for American Progress (CAP), which Podesta founded.[19] According to the High Country News, "nothing ever came of the accusations".[20]

Support of scientific research[edit]

In 2007, he received the Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award,[5][21] and in fall 2008, it was announced that Wyss donated the largest single endowment from one source in Harvard's history when he gave $125 million to found a multidisciplinary institute, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.[3][22][23]

In 2012-13, he announced the creation of the Campus Biotech and of its Wyss Center for Bio- and Neuro-engineering in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2014, Wyss donated $120 million to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and the University of Zurich for the new Wyss Translational Center Zurich.[24]

Personal life[edit]

Wyss is an active hiker, skier and backpacker.[10][11] He is also a hobby pilot.[1]

Wyss lives in Wyoming[25] where he is involved in outdoor education programs and funds local efforts to conserve wildlife habitat and public lands in the Rocky Mountains.[26][10] In 2000, Wyss purchased the 900-acre (3.6 km2) Halter Ranch & Vineyard in western Paso Robles, California.[27]

As of 2015, Wyss ranks 240 on the Forbes list of billionaires, with an estimated net worth of approximately $6.1 billion.[8][3] He ranks number 70 on the Bloomberg list of billionaires.[25]

Wyss has one daughter, Amy Wyss, who also lives in Wyoming.[28]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Allison Connolly (20 April 2011). "Wyss May Top Bertarelli as Richest Swiss Man in Synthes Sale". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Hansjoerg Wyss". Forbes. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d Wilkinson, Tara Loader. Switzerland's second richest man makes big donation to Harvard, Wealth Bulletin, 8 October 2008; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d Marie-Christine Bonzom (27 October 2011). "Bernese billionaire works to keep West wild". Swissinfo.ch. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c "Hansjörg Wyss, MBA 1965". alumni.hbs.edu. Harvard Business School. 1 January 2007. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c Miriam Hill (6 December 2009). "Legal troubles for local billionaire". Philly.com. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Synthes Company History
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Hansjoerg Wyss". Forbes. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c Tate Williams (November 4, 2014). "Wyss, Yet Another Big Philanthropist, Turns to the Oceans". Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Phil Taylor (May 24, 2015). "'Quietly philanthropic' tycoon makes his mark in the West". Environment & Energy Publishing. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c Matthew Brown (December 14, 2010). "Hansjorg Wyss: Swiss Billionaire Puts $35 Million Toward Conservation In Western Montana". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  12. ^ a b Paul M.J. Suchecki (March 18, 2015). "Another Billionaire Comes to the Defense of Africa's Elephants and Rhinos". Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Jim Gerry (2006). "Hansjörg Wyss honored for his philanthropy" (PDF). AO Foundation. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Jonathan Franklin (August 16, 2008). "Save the planet? Buy it". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  15. ^ Associated Press (April 12, 2007). "Trout Unlimited buys Rocky Mountain Front petroleum leases". Billings Gazette. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  16. ^ Marc Gunther (January 30, 2015). "Behind one of the Nature Conservancy's largest ever forest purchases". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  17. ^ "Island student wins scholarship". Bainbridge Review. March 7, 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  18. ^ "HBS Receives $25 Million Gift for Doctoral Program". The Harbus. October 25, 2004. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  19. ^ Richard Pollock (January 29, 2015). "Obama adviser Podesta caught green-handed in major ethics violation". The Daily Caller. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  20. ^ Elizabeth Shogren (May 25, 2015). "John Podesta: Legacy maker". High Country News. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  21. ^ Zobel gets highest alumni award from Harvard, Philippine Daily Inquirer; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  22. ^ "Alum gives Harvard $125 million", msnbc.com; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  23. ^ Harvard alum donates record $125M, usatoday.com, 7 October 2008; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  24. ^ André Müller (12 December 2014). "Hansjörg Wyss sponsoring research". Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  25. ^ a b "#240 Hansjoerg Wyss". Forbes. 6 August 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  26. ^ Jeanne O'Brien (5 January 2011). "Wilderness Medicine Campus Coming to Wyoming". snewsnet.com. Retrieved 18 August 2015. 
  27. ^ Faith Echtermeyer (8 January 2014). "Swiss billionaire merges winemaking, conservation on coast". ocregister.com. Orange County Register. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  28. ^ "#1044 Amy Wyss". Forbes. 18 August 2015. Retrieved 18 August 2015. 

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