Northern Ireland

Chuck Feeney profile: The billionaire who is giving all his money away

Chuck Feeney
Image caption Chuck Feeney made his fortune when he set up the world's largest duty free goods company in 1960, but has spent the last three decades donating billions of dollars to good causes in Ireland and other countries

He is the billionaire who wants to go broke within his own lifetime, by giving his all his money away.

Chuck Feeney is an Irish American philanthropist who has spent the last 30 years losing a fortune - but all in the name of charity.

The 83-year-old businessman made his money selling luxury duty free goods to travellers across the world, but he rejects the trappings of wealth himself.

He does not own a home or a car, and famously wears a watch that was bought for just $15 (£9).

Inspired

Mr Feeney is the founder of The Atlantic Philanthropies, an international organisation set up to distribute his fortune to good causes and projects that he supports around the world.

Since he set it up in 1982, his foundation has made grants totalling $6.5bn (£3.9bn).

His money has supported projects in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, United States, Australia, Bermuda, South Africa and Vietnam.

The foundation's main areas of interest are health, education, reconciliation and human rights.

Anonymity

Mr Feeney traces his family history back to County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, where his grandmother was brought up close to the village of Kinawley.

The entrepreneur has a particular interest in supporting universities on both sides of the Irish border.

In 2012, Forbes magazine described him as "the man who arguably has done more for Ireland than anyone since Saint Patrick".

His philosophy of 'giving while living' has inspired other billionaire businessmen, such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett.

However, Mr Feeney is not as well known as some of his biggest and richest fans, possibly because for the first 15 years of his philanthropic mission, he donated money in secret.

He emerged from anonymity in 1997, and since then he has promoted the idea that people who have amassed great wealth should use their money for "a greater good".

Great Depression

Known for his frugal lifestyle, the billionaire is a self-made man who sprang from humble beginnings.

Charles F Feeney was born to Irish-American parents in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1931 - during the Great Depression.

His mother worked as a hospital nurse and his father was an insurance underwriter.

He showed entrepreneurial skills from an early age, selling Christmas cards door-to-door when he was just 10 years old.

As a teenager, he enlisted in the US air force and served with Signals Intelligence during the Korean War.

He took advantage of a US government education programme for veterans and became the first member of his family to go to college.

After his graduation from Cornell University in New York, he started his own business selling goods to US troops stationed in Europe.

That business model evolved into Duty Free Shoppers (DFS), the company he co-founded with Robert Miller in 1960.

DFS Group now employs more than 9,000 people and describes itself as "the world's leading luxury travel retailer" with billions in sales.

Winding up

However, the man whose life's mission has been to die broke and live trying has turned duty free profits into a duty to give all his profits away.

"I had one idea that never changed in my mind - that you should use your wealth to help people," he said in a 2007 biography.

The Atlantic Philanthropies is continuing to distribute Mr Feeney's "entire endowment", with the aim of "bringing about lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people".

The organisation is due to be wound up in 2020, when he will be 89.

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