19 September 1935 |
|Residence||Wilson, Wyoming, U.S.|
|Alma mater||Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
Harvard Business School
|Occupation||Former CEO of Synthes
Chairman of The Wyss Foundation and The HJW Foundation
|Net worth||$5.6 billion
Hansjörg Wyss (IPA: /ˈhɑːnz/-jorg wiz) (born 19 September 1935) is a Swiss entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist. He is the founder and was president, then chairman of Synthes USA, until its sale in 2012. Wyss, who lives in Wyoming, has supported philanthropic causes relating to environmental protection, social justice and science. His contributions led to the establishment of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University in 2009 and he created the Wyss Foundation, which aims to conserve natural environments, including public lands in the Western United States, Africa, and South America. As of 2017, Wyss has a net worth of US$5.6 billion, according to Forbes.
Early life and career
Wyss was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1935. His father sold mechanical calculators and his mother was a homemaker. He was raised in an apartment with two sisters. After receiving a master's degree in Civil and Structural Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich in 1959, 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.
Wyss also worked in the steel industry in Brussels, Belgium. 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. After that meeting, Wyss spent two years learning about the medical device industry. He founded and became president of Synthes USA in 1977.
In 1977, Wyss founded and became president of Synthes USA, the U.S. division of Switzerland-based Synthes medical device manufacturer making internal screws and plates for broken bones. In an early initiative, Wyss opened a Synthes USA manufacturing plant in Colorado. Prior to that, another Switzerland company manufactured Synthes' devices and exported them to the U.S. Under Wyss' control, the U.S. division expanded its sales team and trained surgeons how to use its products. Wyss served as Synthes' worldwide CEO and chairman until his resignation as CEO in 2007. He maintained his post as company chairman until Johnson & Johnson acquired Synthes in 2012. During his tenure, Wyss said discussions of new products made up one-third of board meetings. A manager assigned to the Norian project testified before a grand jury that “for somebody who is at his level and his level of success, I would say he [Wyss] has a surprising amount of contact with what's going on.” Staff recalled meetings in which he intensively probed their projects.
In 2009, top executives at Synthes were indicted by U.S. Attorneys for Eastern Pennsylvania for using an untested calcium-phosphate-based bone cement on human patients without the authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which resulted in the deaths of three people. Wyss was not indicted but four of Synthes' top executives were convicted and sentenced to prison terms.
According to Forbes, Wyss is "among the most philanthropic people in the world". Between 2004 and 2008, Businessweek estimated that Wyss personally donated nearly USD$277 million. 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. The assets of his charitable foundations equal nearly $2 billion.
His primary philanthropic causes are the environment, social justice, and science, but he frequently contributes to historic projects and European museums. The Wyss Foundation, a charitable organization he founded, has awarded grants for environmental protection as well as to progressive policy organizations, including the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Health Leads, and the Constitutional Accountability Center.
As of 2017, Wyss and 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.
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. In 1998, he created the Wyss Foundation 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. 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. The organization also sponsors The Wyss Scholars Program for graduate-level education in conservation.
The Wyss Foundation's landscape protection strategies have included assisting the purchase of mineral leases from oil and gas companies. Other causes the Wyss Foundation supports includes river restorations, ocean conservation in Peru and Canada, anti-poaching efforts in Africa, and environmental journalism. In 2017, the organization announced a charitable commitment of $65 million to African Parks, a conservation NGO overseeing ten parks in seven African nations, to help create new protected areas in Africa.
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. 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. In 2016, Wyss made another donation to the Trust for Public Land that resulted in the expansion of Saguaro National Park in Arizona by 300 acres, including a mile and a half of Rincon Creek.
Wyss is involved with The Wilderness Society, Rails-to-Trails, and serves on the boards of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Center for American Progress, and the Grand Canyon Trust. In 2011, Wyss won the Robert Marshall Award from The Wilderness Society for his conservation work.
In January 2015, a 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 noted that the Wyss Foundation had previously donated $4 million to the Center for American Progress (CAP), which Podesta founded. According to the High Country News, "nothing ever came of the accusations".
Support of scientific research
In 2007, he received the Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award, 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.
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.
There has been a long-lasting rivalry between billionaire Wyss, who supports left-wing politics, and billionaire conservative Christoph Blocher. Both entered into public debates about the bilateral contracts between Switzerland and the European Union as well as the limitation of immigrants into Switzerland. Wyss, on the one hand, attempted to outline and foster the advantages of openness towards the EU and immigrants while Blocher, on the other hand, sought to highlight and emphasize the independence of Switzerland in those matters.
Wyss is an active hiker, skier and backpacker. He is also a hobby pilot. He lives in Wyoming, where he is involved in outdoor education programs and funds local efforts to conserve wildlife habitat and public lands in the Rocky Mountains. In 2000, Wyss purchased the 900-acre (3.6 km2) Halter Ranch & Vineyard in western Paso Robles, California. The ranch includes an 1,800 acre wildlife preserve and a 281 acre vineyard producing 13 varietals using methods that are "Sustainability in Practice" certified. The ranch hosts tours and was named "Best Vineyard Experience" by Sunset Magazine in 2015.
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- Halter Ranch website, halterranch.com
- Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, wyss.harvard.edu
- The Wyss Foundation, wyssfoundation.org