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The Shy Billionaire In Space

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Richard Branson Virgin

Space is virgin territory, yet, for Sir Richard Branson.

But even that, he appears set to conquer commercially with his company Virgin Galactic this year.

One of the greatest business minds on earth, Branson is in the space race.

In a CNN interview mid-February, commenting on South African billionaire Elon Musk’s recent SpaceX test-launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket, Branson said: “I was a little bit jealous,” and called Musk’s feat “extraordinary”.

The British tycoon, known for his profound love for adventure and sport, admitted in the interview that Virgin Galactic is hoping to put people in space in the coming months.

He also hints about it on his blog: “The team are working tirelessly, and each flight brings us one step closer to commercial service in New Mexico’s Spaceport America.”

“One of our biggest investments has been the space companies, which we have already invested $1 billion to set up,” he says in FORBES’ 100th anniversary issue in 2017.

And should Branson – worth $5 billion according to FORBES – be one of the first space tourists to look down on earth, he would no doubt marvel at the continent he often visits – Africa.

In his new autobiography, Finding My Virginity, launched last year, you find multiple mentions of Africa, and memories and images of the people and places he keeps returning to on the continent.

Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Graça Machel… are revered in these pages.

Branson tells FORBES AFRICA, in an exclusive interview in November last year when in Johannesburg for Virgin Atlantic’s ‘Business is an Adventure’ event, that “almost since the day Nelson Mandela left prison, I got very involved in Africa”.

READ MORE: Lessons And Ideas By The 100 Greatest Living Business Minds

Almost three decades on, he continues to be.

On the continent, Virgin’s biggest presence is in South Africa.

Worldwide, Branson owes his fortune to diverse businesses bearing the Virgin name. The son of a barrister and flight attendant, he started almost 50 years ago with a mail-order record business. He was a school drop-out, but never looked back.

He founded the Virgin Group, which now has interests in mobile telephony, financial services, travel, hospitality, holidays and health, among others.

He created his music label Virgin Records in 1972, signing on artistes such as Mike Oldfield, Janet Jackson, The Rolling Stones and the Spice Girls.

A disruptor in the aviation industry, Branson started Virgin Atlantic in 1984, and the airline has been flying between London Heathrow and South Africa for the last 21 years, and Nigeria for over 16 years.

Richard Branson (Photo by Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images)

In his new book, he says he is often asked the question: “How do you go about becoming a millionaire?” And his answer has been the same: “Start as a billionaire and launch a new airline.” He recounts the first 15 years of Virgin Atlantic as “a topsy-turvy tale of excitement, innovation and survival”.

Branson famously lives on Necker Island, a British Virgin Islands retreat, which, according to FORBES, he bought for $180,000 in 1978. Tutu has been a visitor: there is an endearing 2006 image of Branson planting a kiss on him with the azure sea in the background.

Far from Necker, at the ‘Business is an Adventure’ event in South Africa in November, Branson, the man who never wears ties, is in a pale blue shirt and khaki chinos. He enters, waving his hands in the air simulating the wings of an aeroplane. And on stage, much to the audience’s delight, rips off fellow panelist and Discovery Group CEO Adrian Gore’s tie, saying: “I believe the workplace should be comfortable, it should be relaxing.”

He recounts his entrepreneurial experiences, and pulls out a little black book to note down everything he learns from the people he meets.

“A notebook you can refer back to, especially if people share pearls of wisdom,” he quips.

And he has found enough wisdom in Africa.

Along with British pop musician Peter Gabriel, Branson was instrumental in starting The Elders, formally launched by Mandela in Johannesburg in 2007. An independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights, it also includes stalwarts Tutu, Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon.

In 2005, the billionaire also started the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in South Africa to “address a critical need for entrepreneurs, at a time when there were few organizations offering free, practical business training and mentoring to start-up businesses”.

The physical center in Johannesburg is now closed as they “review their entrepreneur support strategy”, but has over 12 years supported more than 4,300 entrepreneurs.

READ MORE: The Man Pouring Millions Into A Rich Slice Of Africa

Tracey Webster, who headed the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg for almost three years from 2011, vividly recalls her interactions with Branson.

“He is shy and unbelievably humble,” she says. “He is smart about getting everyone else to do the talking – he’s so charming and gracious about giving others the platform; he just has a way in which he promotes people on the ground.”

Webster, who is currently CEO of Enterpriseroom in South Africa, says the most important leadership lesson she received from Branson was “to respect absolutely every single human you came in contact with”.

“He taught me to be a listener rather than a talker,” says Webster, of the shy, introverted man millions look up to.

Richard Branson Archbishop Desmond Tutu The Elders

Richard Branson with Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Picture courtesy of The Elders)

‘Africans Are Natural Entrepreneurs’

In our interview with Sir Richard Branson, we let him do the talking, about his new ventures in Africa, his work for the communities around his businesses, his take on wildlife, and that moment he almost fell off the stage in South Africa.

You have a special affinity for Africa. Why, and what is on the cards for you on the continent?

Almost since the day Nelson Mandela left prison, I got very involved in Africa and one of the first things we did was put up a statue to [South Africa’s anti-apartheid activist] Steve Biko in East London [in South Africa’s Eastern Cape]. That was an incredible event with Nelson Mandela presiding over it. I have told quite a few of these stories in my latest book.

I have done quite a few things with Mandela, and Desmond Tutu, and Graça Michael and Kofi Annan, for things like The Elders and so on.

We are building a mobile phone company or financial services company, [then there’s] Virgin Active, Virgin Insurance…

But I suppose the thing I love the most is the bush. I spend a few days in Ulusaba [the reserve Branson owns], which was voted the best game lodge in Africa last year. And we love working on protecting species and wildlife. We also draw circles around any of our properties and try to help the communities within those circles, so quite a lot of our time and energy is spent on [work], for example, near Ulusaba, we set up quite a big clinic to make sure the people got anti-retroviral drugs, malaria tablets and TB tablets and were helped in other ways. We set up orphanages and small schools and so on.

Around our Virgin Active health clubs, we are doing similar things. Not for companies to draw circles around themselves, but to help the communities within those circles. Hopefully, one day all the circles will join up and most of the problems will be solved.

Richard Branson Nelson Mandela The Elders

Richard Branson with Nelson Mandela on the creation of The Elders (Picture courtesy of The Elders)

Your most abiding memory of Mandela?

I was at his funeral and invited by the family to join them by the graveyard. The coffin had been put in. And then I saw one of his grandsons falling into the hole and I thought ‘why is everybody not reacting, everybody just looks very calm about it’ and I saw another grandson jump down in and I assumed he was going to rescue the first one and then another grandson jumped in and I had to turn to somebody on my left and ask, ‘are they okay’ and he said ‘oh, they are just putting personalized gifts on the coffin to send Madiba on his way’. Anyway, I felt pretty foolish after that.

When we did the original Steve Biko statue in East London, there was just myself and Peter Gabriel there who weren’t local. There must have been a 100,000 people in the crowd and Madiba was standing on a small stage with the other main African leaders. He was president at the time, and he made this incredible and impassionate speech trying to unite the country and all the people on stage. The politician in him was coming out as well as the philanthropist he had become and when he finished, I went up on stage and whispered to him and he then gestured Peter forward who then took the microphone from Mandela and sang the song Biko with all the 100,000 in the audience singing along with him. It was the most wonderful moment. And then the crowd rushed to the stage and the whole stage started collapsing and we only just got Mandela and everybody off just in time before the whole thing collapsed.

After all your visits here, what are your lessons for Africa’s youth?

Because of the Branson School of Entrepreneurship, I got to know lots of wonderful young people over the years, and I think Africans are natural entrepreneurs and need help and need encouragement. This morning [November 10], I was at this wonderful center, the GEN 22 On Sloane [a start-up campus in Johannesburg], where they are going to have a few hundred entrepreneurs working there and in fact, [we] may end up doing something there as well.

We spend a lot of time encouraging entrepreneurship in the UK as well and managed to encourage the government to start something – start-up loans – which is loans to help budding businesspeople. Britain is the only country doing it. And what we are trying to do is to encourage Africa to do the same thing… The other thing the government could do is to get out of business completely themselves, as best they can, and break up any businesses the government is doing into small units and get entrepreneurs to run them. And I think governments have got to encourage competition… and the most important role governments can play is break up monopolies in order to enable thousands and thousands of new jobs to be created by new businesses being started.

The fourth industrial revolution, AI, robotics… where do you see Africa headed? Do you have any investments in these sectors?

One area of AI that we are working with in Africa is with a wonderful foundation and they are trying to get 50,000 women in African villages to have an iPad each; they are not trained as doctors or fully-trained as nurses, but using that iPad, through the fact that thousands and thousands of women have used this iPad and every time they make an answer, it gets better and better and better, they can actually act almost as good as a doctor or a nurse by just asking questions and getting answers and then prescribing malaria tablets, or TB tablets, and even anti-retroviral drugs and so on. Obviously, with serious cases, they’ll refer them to a surgeon or doctor, but again, the tablet will show that. So that actually will create 50,000 jobs and definitely save a lot of lives.

If it works, it will cost about a dollar a person, for a pretty good health service. And that should be happening, they have already trained up to 7,000 and the idea is to go up to 50,000.

You own a wine estate in Cape Town, is that something you see your future in?

Well, we need to be able to party as well and relax after all the hard work. We found Mont Rochelle and fell in love with it three or four years ago and felt we could turn it into one of the best vineyards in Africa. I think the team have done a great job and of course a lot of people who get to the bush want to come down to the Cape as well, so it’s nice they can stay in the Virgin family.

You started your entrepreneurial journey at the age of 16, any advice for innovators that young?

One of my books is called Screw It, Let’s Do It and I would just say follow that philosophy and give it a go. If you fall flat on your face, beat yourself up and do it again until you succeed.

READ MORE: FORBES’ Profile On Richard Branson

Richard Branson Adrian Gore

Richard Branson on stage with Discovery CEO Adrian Gore at the Business is an Adventure event in Johannesburg in 2017 (Picture supplied)

Branson’s Ventures in sub-Saharan Africa

  • The Virgin Group operates 140 Virgin Active health clubs across southern Africa. More recently, it opened its first club in Botswana and a second in Namibia, a strong indication of the growth potential that exists in Africa for the group.
  • Virgin Active’s presence in South Africa came about following a request by Nelson Mandela to Richard Branson, asking him to help save the country’s Health & Racquet Club chain, which was about to collapse. This resulted in Virgin acquiring the 76 Health & Racquet Clubs in South Africa.
  • In South Africa’s Western Cape province, in the wine town of Franschhoek, Branson owns Mont Rochelle, a luxe hotel and vineyard an hour’s drive from Cape Town.
  • Mahali Mzuri is Branson’s safari lodge in Kenya, positioned within the Maasai Mara ecosystem.
  • The Virgin Limited Edition’s Ulusaba private game reserve in South Africa supports the local communities through a not-for-profit called Pride ’n Purpose, focusing on sustainable development initiatives and improving access to food, water and health services.
  • Elsewhere in Africa, projects include an investment in M-Kopa, focused on solar power in East Africa and primarily Kenya, helping families gain access to energy using solar technology at affordable prices.
  • In the financial services sector,Virgin Money has just launched a peer-to-peer payment service called Virgin Money Spot. The app allows customers to send money to friends in a simple, safe and social way.
  • The Virgin Group has recently invested in South African mobile software firm wiGroup.
  • Virgin has initiatives called Living Goods and Last Mile Health, aiming to have just under 50,000 digitally empowered community health workers across sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2021, reaching a total of 34.3 million people. This will be through a mixture of digital devices, including iPads.

Billionaires

In Defense Of Kylie Jenner: Are Any Of The World’s Billionaires Entirely Self-Made?

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Last month, after Forbes named Kylie Jenner the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, we unintentionally set off a heated debate on social media about the meaning of the word “self-made.”

The idea that a 21-year-old who grew up on a reality TV show (Keeping Up With the Kardashians), whose sister is Kim Kardashian, and whose rich and famous parents are Kris and Caitlyn Jenner could be considered self-made, sparked a very public backlash.

The debate was renewed once again on March 31 after the New York Times published a story in which Kylie admitted to having some help building her business. “I can’t say I’ve done it by myself,” the beauty mogul told the Times. “If they’re just talking finances, technically, yes, I don’t have any inherited money. But I have had a lot of help and a huge platform.”

READ MORE | At 21, Kylie Jenner Becomes The Youngest Self-Made Billionaire Ever

Well, yes, that’s exactly what we mean at Forbes when we say that Kylie—and 1,449 other billionaires—are “self-made.” And that’s perhaps the nub of the disagreement. At Forbes we’ve been using the term to describe the origin of someone’s fortune, rather than whether a billionaire got help to build a hugely successful company or not.

 Forbeshas been tracking the fortunes of America’s richest for more than 35 years and we’ve used three classifications for how people made their fortunes: self-made, inherited and inherited and growing; the latter category was reserved for people like Donald Trump, who built on his father’s real estate empire.

 Forbeshas been tracking the fortunes of America’s richest for more than 35 years and we’ve used three classifications for how people made their fortunes: self-made, inherited and inherited and growing; the latter category was reserved for people like Donald Trump, who built on his father’s real estate empire.

What many object to when Forbes calls Kylie self-made is that (1) she had lots of help (from people like her mom, Kris Jenner) building the company that turned her into a billionaire, and (2) she started out rich and famous. Both of those assertions are true. But Mark Zuckerberg, whom Forbes also classifies as self-made, didn’t build Facebook by himself and he started out well-off, though not as rich and not nearly as famous as Kylie. (Zuckerberg’s father is a dentist, his mother a psychologist).

READ MORE | The 10 Most Notable New Billionaires Of 2019

Plus there are seven other Facebook billionaires who, one could argue, rode alongside Zuckerberg in building the massive social network, including cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, Zuckeberg’s former roommate; cofounder Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s former classmate; Sean Parker, the social network’s first president; Jim Breyer and Peter Thiel, its early investors; and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer since 2008, four years after the company was founded. Forbesclassifies all of these billionaires as self-made—none of them inherited their fortunes. None of them built Facebook alone.

Five years ago, Forbes dug deeper into one defining characteristic of billionaires: How far did they climb to make their way to the top? That year, for the first time, we gave each member of The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans a self-made score on a scale from 1 to 10: A 1 means the fortune was completely inherited; a 10 is for a Horatio Alger-esque journey from the depths of poverty. At the most basic level, the scores denote who inherited some or all of their fortune (scores 1 through 5) and those who truly made it on their own (6 through 10).

We have continued to apply this self-made score to all American billionaires (and also now to self-made women). In Kylie’s case, we gave her a 7 out of 10, acknowledging that she had plenty of advantages from the start.

Donald Trump scores a 4 because he inherited a fortune from his father and then expanded it significantly, while the widow of Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs, gets a 2 because she inherited a fortune and has a role in managing it, having made investments in media (The Atlantic and Ozy Media) and professional sports (she owns a 20% stake the group behind the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals).

READ MORE | More Than A Dozen European Billionaires—Linked To BMW, L’Oréal, Bosch—Have Families With Past Nazi Ties

While few billionaires have had the type of social media platform that Kylie Jenner had when she launched her business—with 120 million Instagram followers—(which we actually think further underscores her entrepreneurial savvy, not the help she got), every single self-made billionaire on Forbes’ list has had help building their fortune, be it from other employees at the company they founded, venture capitalists, mentors, friends or parents.

Steve Ballmer, for instance, had the good fortune to be one of Bill Gates’ classmates at Harvard, which led to a job at Microsoft. He eventually replaced Gates as chief executive, a job he held for 15 years. He is now the 19th-richest person in the world.   

Leon Black, whose father was the CEO of United Brands, got a $75,000 life insurance payout after his father died when he was in business school. He later cofounded private equity giant Apollo Global Management, which made him a billionaire. Hedge fund tycoon Chase Coleman is a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New York. Another hedge fund titan, Ken Griffin, started trading in his Harvard dorm room using $265,000, part of which came from his family.

And the nation’s richest real estate developer, Donald Bren, is the son of a real estate investor and Hollywood film producer. Phil Knight, in his autobiography Shoe Dog, spells out how the early days of Nike were a team effort by a core group of incredibly dedicated early employees. Even Oprah Winfrey, who grew up dirt poor and earns a number 10 rank on our self-made score, got help from smart producers and other employees to turn her daytime talk show from an also-ran into a huge hit, as the podcast Making Oprah details.

READ MORE | The World’s Most Generous Billionaires Outside Of The US

So why have people reacted so vehemently to Kylie? Is it that the Kardashians are people everyone loves to hate? Is it that Americans are fed up with the reality TV, social media culture that not only helped make a 21-year-old who posted on Instagram a billionaire but also helped get a president elected? Several people with whom we spoke wondered if it was because she was a woman. Would we have had the same discussions if it was her half-brother Robert who became a billionaire instead of Kylie?

No one will really ever know. But one thing is certain: Kylie Jenner figured out a simple, easy way to turn her family’s fame, her huge Instagram following and her passion for makeup into big, big bucks.

Luisa Kroll; Forbes Staff

Kerry A. Dolan; Forbes Staff

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Billionaires

Jeff Bezos To Give MacKenzie 25% Of His Amazon Stake, Worth Tens Of Billions, In Divorce

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Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, announced on Thursday that he will transfer roughly 4% of the company’s stock to his wife, MacKenzie, most likely by early July. The couple are in the process of finalizing their divorce.

Those shares are worth more than $35 billion as of 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday. That would make MacKenzie the third-richest woman in the world, behind L’Oréal’s Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, who is worth an estimated $52.9 billion, and Walmart’s Alice Walton, who is worth $45 billion. She would rank as the planet’s 26th-richest person, ahead of Nike’s Phil Knight.

Jeff Bezos will remain the world’s richest person, with a net worth above $110 billion, per early Thursday afternoon stock prices. Bill Gates is the world’s second-wealthiest individual, boasting an estimated $99.5 billion fortune.

While still pending, the Bezos divorce settlement will likely be the largest in world history. Other divorces of the ultrarich include Steve and Elaine Wynn (she received an estimated $850 million settlement), as well as Bill and Susan Gross (she received a $1.3 billion settlement).

In a statement posted to his Twitter account, Jeff Bezos said, “In all our work together, MacKenzie’s abilities have been on full display. She has been an extraordinary partner, ally, and mother.”

MacKenzie posted a tweet of her own, saying, “Grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage with Jeff from each other. … Happy to be giving him all my interests in the Washington Post and Blue Origin, and 75% of our Amazon stock plus voting control of my shares to support his continued contributions with the teams of these incredible companies.”

The couple filed a petition for divorce on April 4, and they expect an official decree to be issued in early July, they said in an SEC filing that outlined the transfer of shares. The filing noted that Jeff Bezos will continue to exercise voting control over MacKenzie’s shares, unless she sells them on the open market or gives them to qualifying nonprofits.

If MacKenzie transfers shares, the recipient of the stock must sign a similar agreement granting Jeff Bezos voting control.

The couple announced their divorce in January, following 25 years of marriage. Their separation stirred a tabloid frenzy, as intimate text messages between Bezos and his romantic partner, Lauren Sanchez, a TV anchor, were leaked by the National Enquirer.

Bezos subsequently published an open letter accusing American Media Inc., which owns the National Inquirer, of extortion and blackmail. AMI has denied wrongdoing.

Bezos also hired a team of investigators to determine who accessed his private messages. His consultant Gavin De Becker ultimately accused the Saudi Arabian government of illicitly gaining access to Bezos’ cellphone. Saudi officials have denied that allegation.

-Angel Au-Yeung; Forbes Staff

-Noah Kirsch; Forbes Staff

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The World’s Most Generous Billionaires Outside Of The US

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Last October, Forbes tracked the biggest billionaire philanthropists in the U.S. and ranked their efforts with a new philanthropy score. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, cofounders of the Giving Pledge, led our list with $35.8 billion and $35.1 billion, respectively, in lifetime donations. George Soros was third, with $32 billion.

“No other country really rivals the history and tradition of charitable giving that exists in the U.S., which has supported a strong and vital civic sector over the years” says Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. “The high levels of charitable giving here also have something to do with the more limited role government plays in this country than, say, in Canada or European countries. And, of course, the accumulation of wealth here has meant there are more mega-givers than there are in other countries.”

But change is in the air. Big gifts have begun to be handed out by billionaires outside the U.S. as well, following in the footsteps of their American counterparts. Since 2012, 28 non-American members of the Forbes billionaires list have signed the Giving Pledge, promising to give at least half of their wealth away (in their lifetimes or after they die). Some, including those who didn’t sign the pledge, have already taken action toward their goal of 10-figure giving: six non-U.S. billionaires have committed more than $1 billion to philanthropic entities, Forbesconfirmed.

One Indian billionaire gave away not only money, but also a kidney. Kochouseph Chittilappilly built a fortune in electrical appliances. In 2011, two months after he turned 60, he donated one of his kidneys to a complete stranger, and a year later, he launched a charitable foundation that focuses on health care and education. So far he’s donated $95 million, including a gift of $79 million to his foundation.

A small number of billionaires outside of the U.S. like Azim Premji—who recently told Forbes “To whom much has been given, much should be expected”—have put billions of dollars into charitable foundations and causes in their home countries and across the globe.In mid-March Indian tech tycoon Premji announced that he shifted a $7.5 billion stake in his IT outsourcing company, Wipro, to his charitable foundation. That move brought his lifetime giving to $21 billion, according to his foundation.

The news not only solidified Premji as the fourth most generous philanthropist in the world, but also makes him the biggest philanthropist outside the U.S. Premji has put 81% of his wealth toward charitable giving in his lifetime, more than any other current billionaire in percentage terms. A close second is hedge fund billionaire George Soros, who has donated more than 76% of his wealth to his Open Society Foundations. Former billionaire and philanthropy icon Chuck Feeney has given away almost all of his $7.5 billion fortune, Forbesreported in 2012, and inspired Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to establish the Giving Pledge.

Two non-U.S. billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge but not yet hit the billion-dollar giving mark are stepping up their philanthropic efforts. In Australia, Fortescue Metals founderAndrew Forrest and his wife Nicola donated about $600 million to their Minderoo Foundation, which launched its marine research initiative in 2018.

South African billionaire PatriceMotsepe has donated over $500 million to projects in Africa pertaining to health, farming, agrobusiness, infrastructure, and music. Last year, the African Rainbow Minerals founder also pledged to donate $250 million to South African land reform and $100 million to education initiatives.

One billionaire, who appears to be incredibly generous, is not on the list below because of a technical reason. Dietmar Hopp, cofounder of German software company SAP, put over 60% of his SAP stake—currently worth $6.9 billion—into a charitable outlet that has distributed more than $800 million since 1995. Forbes still counts the shares in Hopp’s charitable outlet as part of his net worth because he retains economic control over the shares and they are not irrevocably placed in a foundation.

Here is Forbes’ list of the biggest billionaire philanthropists from outside the US, measured by total dollar amount donated through mid-March 2019:

*Net worths are as of March 25, 2019.

BANGALORE, INDIA APRIL 27: Wipro Chairman Azim Premji during the announcement of Quarter 4 Results at Wipro Headquarters Sarjapur Road on April 27, 2011 in Bangalore, India. (Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint via Getty Images)

Azim Premji
Citizenship: India
Lifetime giving: $21 billion
Net worth: $5 billion

Through his foundation, IT billionaire Premji has prioritized improving the public school system in some of the most underserved parts of India. He established the Azim Premji University in Bangalore in 2010, which plans to expand its student body from a current 1,300 students to 5,000 students, according to the foundation.

Premji himself never graduated from college, dropping out of Stanford in 1966 to take over his family’s cooking oil business after his father died. He shifted into software and expanded the small company into Wipro, which had $8.4 billion in revenue in 2018. Premji serves as chairman.

CHRISTOPHER HOHN
Christopher Hohn, manager and founder of The Children’s Investment Fund Photographer: Andreas Scholz/Bloomberg NewsBLOOMBERG NEWS

Christopher Hohn
Citizenship: United Kingdom
Lifetime giving: $4.5 billion
Current net worth: $3.1 billion

Hedge fund manager Hohn cofounded the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) in 2002 with his then-wife Jamie. Hohn, who had been working at hedge fund firm Perry Capital since 1996, struck out on his own in 2003 to start a London-based hedge fund called the Children’s Investment Fund. Including an undisclosed donation by Perry Capital in 2002, Hohn and Jamie, who divorced in 2014, have given at least $4.5 billion to CIFF, moving assets from the hedge fund into the foundation.

“The original mission in setting up CIFF was to improve the lives of children in developing countries who live in poverty,” says Hohn on CIFF’s website. “This hasn’t changed. I want to solve problems, not make grants.”

Lopez Obrador Meets Mexican Egineering Organizations
Carlos Slim Helu (Photo by Carlos Tischler/Getty Images)GETTY IMAGES

Carlos Slim Helu
Citizenship: Mexico
Lifetime giving: $4.2 billion
Current net worth: $61.4 billion

A telecom tycoon,Slim early on was a critic of the Giving Pledge. “Many of the problems will be solved by business activity and development,” he said in 2011, adding that “Charity doesn’t solve poverty. How much charity has been done in the past years? Trillions of dollars.” Still, he believes in some forms of philanthropy. Since 2006, Slim’s spokesman says, he has donated $4.2 billion to his Carlos Slim Foundation.

He gave $2 billion to his foundation in 2006 and the same amount again in 2010. Most of that money has come from dividends Slim collected from shares he owns in some of Mexico’s largest companies, Forbes reported in 2011. Over the past six years, he’s donated another $160 million to the outfit, which works on improving health conditions and education, among other causes, so people can work to support their families. Helu’s foundation has collaborated with nonprofit organizations, including the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation.

Hong Kong Tycoon Li Ka-shing Retires
Li Ka-shing, former chairman of CK Hutchison and CK Asset (Photo by Zhang Wei/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)VCG VIA GETTY IMAGES

Li Ka-shing
Citizenship: Hong Kong
Lifetime giving: $3.2 billion
Current net worth: $32.5 billion

Since 1980, Li Ka-shing’s foundation has donated billions to education, medical services and research initiatives in 27 countries, including China, where he was born but was forced to flee in 1940 at the age of 12 after Japan invaded Southern China. 

“When I received the Forbes’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, I shared with everyone that my charitable foundation, founded in 1980, is like my third son to me,” he told Forbes in 2017. “I hoped to persuade those who can, in Asia, support causes important to society as a duty in line with supporting our children.”

Hansjoerg Wyss
Hansjoerg WyssCOURTESY OF THE WYSS FOUNDATION

Hansjoerg Wyss
Citizenship: Switzerland
Lifetime giving: $1.9 billion
Current net worth: $5.9 billion

Wyss founded medical device manufacturer Synthes and sold it to Johnson & Johnson in 2012 for $20.2 billion in cash and stock. Wyss is dedicated to protecting the environment not only in his home continent, Europe, but also in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In an op-ed for the New York Times last October, he pledged to donate $1 billion to land and ocean conservation to protect 30% of earth’s surface by 2030. “Every one of us — citizens, philanthropists, business and government leaders — should be troubled by the enormous gap between how little of our natural world is currently protected and how much should be protected,” he wrote.

He’s already put at least $1.9 billion into his foundation since 2001. The foundation has doled out $450 million to preserve land around the planet, and Wyss has additionally given $40 million to the same cause. In 2018, Wyss donated an undisclosed sum to the Trust for Public Land so it could buy and retire oil and gas leases on more than 24,000 acres in Wyoming where he resides.

Stephan Schmidheiny
Stephan SchmidheinyCOURTESY OF PETER SCHUERMANN

Stephan Schmidheiny
Citizenship: Switzerland
Lifetime giving: $1.5 billion
Current net worth: $2.3 billion

Schmidheiny became the president of Swiss Eternit Group, his father’s construction materials company, in 1976 when he was just 29. Since 2003, he has donated about $1.5 billion to charity, mostly in shares of his Latin American industrial assets that he placed in his charitable VIVA Trust.

Schmidheiny—who helped organize the UN’s first conference on environment and development in 1992—has distributed more than $600 million to projects across the world that focus on sustainable development. In 2012 Schmidheiny was convicted  by an Italian court of negligence by Eternit’s Italian affiliate that led to 2,000 asbestos-related deaths. Italy’s Supreme Court overturned the decision in 2014, acquitting Schmidheiny.

Deniz Cam;Forbes Staff

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