A lot of people look up to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. But who do Buffett and Gates look up to?
That would be Chuck Feeney. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s by design. Feeney is a multi-billionaire — actually, make that a former multi-billionaire. He co-founded a chain of duty-free shops (the kind you see in airports), and later made it his life’s mission to donate every cent he’d ever made to charity.
Having made billions, his goal was to die broke. He did it all very quietly for years — even anonymously, trying not to draw attention to himself. His quest eventually became known, however, and last week, Feeney reached his goal: having given away a total of $8 billion — virtually his entire fortune — at the age of 89. “To those wondering about giving while living: Try it. You’ll like it.” Feeney said, during the meeting when he signed the papers to dissolve his charitable foundation, since it no longer has any assets.
For Buffett and Gates, a milestone date of May 5, 2009, explains their awe and reverence for Feeney: At a dinner at Rockefeller University in New York, Feeney was there, along with Oprah Winfrey, then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg, David Rockefeller (the host), and about a dozen other billionaires. It was out of that dinner meeting that Buffett and Gates teamed up to announce the Giving Pledge, convincing 210 other billionaires (so far) to commit to give away at least half their net worth. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett credit Chuck Feeney as a major inspiration for both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Giving Pledge.
Feeney and his wife reportedly live in a fairly modest, rented apartment in San Francisco. After giving away most of his fortune, Feeney reportedly has a remaining net worth of about $2 million. That would mean he held on to about .025 percent of his net worth, just to keep himself and his wife comfortable in their Golden Years.