Hansjörg Wyss

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Hansjörg Wyss
Hansjorg Wyss profile image.png
Born (1935-09-19) 19 September 1935 (age 79)
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]

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.

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]

Environmental protection[edit]

Wyss is actively involved in landscape protection by buying up the mineral rights from the mining companies.[8] In 1998, he established the Wyss Foundation,[9] which establishes and sponsors informal partnerships between non-governmental organisations and the United States administration to place large swathes of land under government protection. On account of these efforts, almost 4,400,000 acres (18,000 km2) of land have been declared national park districts.[10]

Wyss serves on the boards of The Wilderness Society, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Rails-to-Trails, and the Grand Canyon Trust, he is one of the founders [11] and is an honorary member of the AO Foundation.[12] Wyss donated 3.7 million Swiss francs to the Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway, which enabled the organisation to restore the railway line also between Gletsch and Oberwald.[13]

In 2000, Wyss purchased the 900-acre (3.6 km2) Halter Ranch in western Paso Robles, California. In 2004, Forbes ranked Wyss the 26th wealthiest person in Europe with almost $6 billion; by 2005, he rose to 18th place with an accumulated wealth of almost $8 billion.[14] In 2006, Wyss was ranked #72 on The Times list of 100 Richest People in the World.[15]

On 29 January 2015, it was reported that John Podesta is the driving force inside the White House to block 12 million acres of land in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling, and who founded the Center for American Progress (CAP), had been hired by Wyss in 2013 as a "consultant". Wyss has donated $4 million USD to CAP, and is a member of CAP's Board. Podesta worked at Wyss’s HJW Foundation in 2013 and joined the White House in January 2014. Federal conflict of interest rules overseen by the Office of Government Ethics also instruct political appointees to "not work on any matter" if the work of their previous employer "would raise a question regarding the employee's impartiality." The law applies to White House officials and it is unclear if Podesta ever even sought a waiver. Wyss lives in Wyoming where he continues his campaign against oil and gas drilling, as well as seeking grazing bans on federal lands. At the end of 2013, he merged the HJF Foundation with his Wyss Foundation, building a private foundation that has amassed a net value of $2 billion, according to tax filings.[citation needed]

Podesta has been criticized for CAP's excessive secrecy. A Nation article in 2013 accused Podesta's CAP of being "among the most secretive of all think tanks concerning its donors." In early January 2015, CAP gave a list of its donors to a Washington Post reporter, Greg Sargent, but any references to Wyss were omitted; the list reported three "anonymous" donors. 2013 tax documents from the HJW Foundation and the Wyss Foundation show that Wyss contributed $1.5 million to CAP that year alone.[16]

Support of scientific research[edit]

In 2007, he received the Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award,[5][17] 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][18][19]

In 2012-13, he announce 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.[20]


  1. ^ a b c d 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 Wilkinson, Tara Loader. Switzerland's second richest man makes big donation to Harvard, Wealth Bulletin, 8 October 2008; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  4. ^ Marie-Christine Bonzom (October 27, 2011). "Bernese billionaire works to keep West wild". Swissinfo. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c "Hansjörg Wyss, MBA 1965". alumni.hbs.edu. Harvard Business School. January 1, 2007. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Miriam Hill (December 6, 2009). "Legal troubles for local billionaire". Philly.com. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Synthes Company History
  8. ^ Save the planet? Buy it, The Daily Telegraph; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  9. ^ Wyss Foundation website; accessed 31 January 2015.
  10. ^ Gerry, Jim. Hansjörg Wyss honored for his philanthropy, AO Foundation; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  11. ^ The Academic Council, AO Foundation; retrieved 15 April 2013.
  12. ^ Trustees Meeting 2008, AO Foundation; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  13. ^ Furka pass railway celebrates historic milestone, Swisster; retrieved 31 January 2015.
  14. ^ Stiles, Jim. Take It or Leave It, Canyon County Zephyr, April–May 2006; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  15. ^ The 100 Richest in the World 2006, timesonline.co.uk; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  16. ^ "Obama adviser Podesta caught green-handed in major ethics violation", dailycaller.com; accessed 31 January 2015.
  17. ^ Zobel gets highest alumni award from Harvard, Philippine Daily Inquirer; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  18. ^ "Alum gives Harvard $125 million", msnbc.com; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  19. ^ Harvard alum donates record $125M, usatoday.com, 7 October 2008; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  20. ^ André Müller (12 December 2014). "Hansjörg Wyss sponsoring research". Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Retrieved 26 June 2015. 

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