Who Is Chuck Feeney? The Biography Of The Secret Billionaire

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Have you heard about Chuck Feeney? Did you know that he is a billionaire and one of the wealthiest people in the world? Most of you probably don’t know him. Here is why I decided to write his amazing biography here. He is an American-Irish philanthropist, the founder of one of the biggest world foundations – “The Atlantic Philanthropies“. He and his organization have changed the lives of so many people without even these people knowing him. He has always stayed out of the spotlights, because glory and popularity has never been among his desires. He just wanted to help people, and this is why his story is worth telling…



Chuck Feeney (Charles Francis Feeney) was born in the city of Elizabeth, New Jersey, on April 23rd, 1931. This was the time of the Great Depression and his family struggled to make a living. His mother Madeline Feeney had always had the internal desire to help others. She worked as a volunteer nurse for the Red Cross. Chuck started earning money by doing some work for his neighbors when he was in elementary school. He teamed with a friend from his class and they shoveled snow to make a few dollars and support their families.

Chuck Feenly with mother, father and his two sisters.

Chuck Feenly with mother, father and his two sisters. Source: www.atlanticphilanthropies.org

After he finished school, he decided to join the US Air Force, where he served as a radio operator. At that time, soldier that went to military service had the right to receive a free university education after the service. This was how he went to study in Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. He was the first of his family ever to go to college. This was where he started to search for some business opportunities and ways to earn some money. He saw a guy selling sandwiches, he called him, bought one and told to himself: “I can do that…, It’s no difficult…” and he became a sandwich man. In his university, he met the young Harvey Dale, a law student from New York, who would later become one of his best friends.

Chuck Feeney In The Army

Chuck Feeney In The Army, Source: www.atlanticphilanthropies.org

After his graduation from Cornell, Chuck went to France to continue studying. He has always wanted to work for himself, instead of working for somebody else. He chose to find a business opportunity instead of a job. In 1956, there were around 50 US army ships at the coasts of the Mediterranean sea in France. All of the 30 000 sailors were allowed to buy tax free liquor. This was the perfect business for him. He wasted no time and this was how he started his new business. Initially he had no money, office and stuff like that but the business was really good. He bought for 5 and sold for almost 15 making more than 100% profit margin after taking out all of the expenses. In November 1960, Feeney and his friend Robert Miller officially founded their company DFS – Duty Free Shoppers Group. Then he told to himself “If it’s good for the soldiers, it’s probably good for the tourists.” and he began selling to them, too. Then he thought that as he could sell liquor, he could also sell parfums … And he quickly expanded his range of products.

Alen Parker - a partner and accountant at DFS.

Alen Parker – a partner and accountant at DFS. Source: www.atlanticphilanthropies.org

The sailors wanted not only alcohol, many of them were searching to buy automobiles. He began receiving so many such requests, that he decided to bring those automobiles to them. This was how, in 1964, he got into the automobile business. Everything was working so great, that nobody expected the shake that was about to come. Sales were great, they received tons of cash from them, but there was no expenses control. This was a big problem, especially when the chief accountant realized that the liabilities were a million and a half more than the assets of DFS. Also they paid some really big taxes and despite of the great revenue, the business wasn’t actually earning money. Feeney’s company had two options – to fail honestly or to continue out of the law. They decided to choose the first one, and this was the failure of Chuck’s first business. They closed the doors, but they moved on…

Chuck Feenly nowadays

Chuck Feenly nowadays, source: giving.stanford.edu

But the next business opportunity was just about to come. It was in the airports’ duty-free shops… They were given on the principle of concessions. Governments would allow the highest bidder to operate such a shop for a certain period of time. A friend of Chuck got in touch with him and told him that the Honolulu Airport in Hawaii was about to organize an auction for a duty-free shop concession. He and his partners went there, bid $125 000 and won the 5 years concession. This turned out to be their next big hit. 1964 was the year when Japanese government was trying their best to change the image of their country and make it look more open minded. They allowed much more Japanese to travel freely abroad, and do you know what their top destination was…? Hawaii… And they were the perfect buyers for DFS’ store. A bottle of whisky in Japan costed $35 and in the duty free store they could get it for around $7. You can get an idea about what a bargain that was for every Japanese. And this was a pretty big deal for DFS, too. The same was with cigarettes, the could buy them at 1/10 of the price at Japan. Feeney’s business quickly exploded. They began making $10 million a year.

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The release of Boeing 747 brought a big change in business, and it was for good. It immediately expanded the flight capacity of many countries and gave a tremendous boost of the business. From making $10 million per year in sales, they began making $1 million per day. That was a huge success. They had money to bid elsewhere and this was how they opened some more duty free shops all around the world. Soon, they became the largest company in this field. In the late 70-ties, they had around 5 000 employees and revenue of $3 billion per year. And the sweetest thing was that all of the profits were tax free.

Chuck became a millionaire everything was great, but soon he started realizing that big wealth had some other side effects. His family had no incentive to chase anything. His kids were already bored, they didn’t have the motive to achieve anything in life, because they already had it. He made everything to teach his children to go after opportunities, to live actively, but wealth was a big obstacle for that. Probably this was the main reason for him to start giving his fortunes to other people.

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This was how Feeney founded The Atlantic Philanthropies foundation in 1982. He put aside some money for each member of his family and transferred all of his remaining wealth to the foundation- all of his share of 38.75% in DFS worth $1.6 billion. Since its inception, Atlantic Philanthropies has donated to charity causes more than $6 billion.

This is how one of the biggest business empires was born. If you liked the biography of Chuck Feeney, please share it with friends. All you should do is to press your best social button. Thanks!