The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Made and Gave Away a Fortune by Conor O’Clery

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Key Takeaways
  1. Feeney gave away his fortune so stealthily that four years after giving it away, Forbes still reported him a billionaire
  2. Born during the Great Depression into a lower middle class family in New Jersey
  3. Entrepreneurial from a young age, very outgoing and social, making everyone feel like they were his best friend
  4. Volunteered for the military and was in Japan for 4 years
  5. Always had big dreams, even if seemed impossible - Cornell school of hotel management. Sold sandwiches and Xmas cards around school for extra cash
  6. Loved to travel and continued his education in Grenoble
  7. Working with Miller, Feeney started selling duty free liquor to navy ships in Europe
  8. Once Americans started visiting Europe more, Feeney realized he could sell to them too. Named company Tourists International
  9. Partnered with a competitor, Duty Free Shoppers, to sell liquor while Duty Free sold many other goods. Tourists International eventually bought out Duty Free
  10. Feeney was always thinking of new ventures and never micromanaged. He was too busy
  11. Soon started selling cars duty free - Cars International
  12. Got first Duty Free shops in Honolulu and Tokyo
  13. Business was booming but with no financial processes in place, they didn't know if they were really making money. Soon put proper accounting processes in place and cut spending. Their accounting woes got so bad that they didn't know if they were going to survive.
  14. With more stringent regulations on liquor and cars, they soon adopted Duty Free Shoppers for their company name
  15. Booming Japanese tourism in Hawaii and Hong Kong helped make DFS one of the biggest and most influential retailers in the world. Took a leap of faith from Camus brandy to get them rolling. They can push any brand to customers which will give them higher margins, which is exactly what they did with Camus
  16. Predicted expansion of new markets like Guam and were first movers which helped them achieve dominance
  17. By 1974, cash dividends reached over $30M, with Feeney getting about $12M per year. Quickly determined his distaste for ostentation and cultivated a frugal lifestyle
  18. Didn't believe charity was just giving money away, but also making sure it was helping the most people possible
  19. Inspired by Carnegie to give away his wealth during his lifetime as "ladders to which the masses can rise" 
  20. Only real competitor for some time was Host International but they overbid on a duty free shop location and soon went bankrupt.
  21. Feeney was brilliant in that he convinced the tour managers, bus drivers, and others who influenced what tourist groups did and saw to bring the groups to DFS locations. Tourists often had never seen goods priced so low and the tour guides got a cut of the action
  22. Turned over his wealth completely at age 53 to a trust foundation, General Atlantic group and the Atlantic Foundation. Still could influence what was done with the money but officially no longer his, somewhere between $500m to $1b
  23. Very private about his philanthropy. All would be done anonymously, With no recognition and with the recipient not knowing who the gift was from
  24. Going back to his Irish roots, helped Limerick University with many renovations and improving their academic standing
  25. Incredibly successful investments in everything from real estate and development, oil and energy, software, health clubs
  26. General Atlantic had about $2B in assets from DFS and other assets but Feeney was looking to sell his stake in DFS in order to be more liquid
  27. Feeney played a huge role in helping Northern Ireland and Ireland reach peace agreements
  28. DFS was the first true global retailer and the worlds most successful marketer
  29. LVMH bought 8.5% of DFS and this brought about a lot of tension between the owners. Eventually they sold DFS in 1997 to LVMH
  30. After the sale, Chuck was able to focus exclusively on his philanthropy and eventually out of it himself to the media
  31. Trump is exactly like Feeney if only he lived his entire life completely the opposite
  32. Cornell was Feeney's single largest benefactor but he helped charities and foundations all over the world. Most notably Irish universities and research  (which helped spur the Celtic Tiger a couple years later), hospitals in Vietnam and resorts and sports facilities in Australia
  33. Chuck had a unique way of reaching decisions. He would ask an enormous amount of questions from a huge group of people that would come to conclusions in different ways. It would be hard to know where Feeney stood on an issue until the moment the decision had to be made. However once a decision was made it off and turned out that Chuck was right and he always stuck to his guns
  34. Chuck was very frugal and had no ego whatsoever - often combing through phone bills to make sure he was charged correctly
  35. Atlantic Foundation incredibly successful in their investments too - 29% annual return from 1980-2000! Earning Feeney more than from his sale of DFS
  36. Most they gave away in a single years was $525m
  37. Family agrees that Chuck is the most empathetic person they know
  38. In his later years, a schism between the new leadership at the Atlantic Foundation and Feeney developed. They disagreed as to what projects and charities should receive funding
  39. Feeney gave Cornell a $350m donation to help build a research facility in NY, bringing his total contributions to the school to over $1b
  40. Feeney's generosity attracted other billionaires such as Gates, Buffett, Soros, Bloomberg and others to sign a pledge to give away at least half their wealth during their lives
  41. Feeney was able to give away more than his idol, Carnegie by giving away around $7.5B
What I got out of it
  1. Live simply and frugally, do great things and make a lot of money in order to be able to give it away