The American billionaire Chuck Feeney, founder of DFS, has a story that is quite amazing. Without him, Apple would not be facing any EU tax bill today. In fact Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and many others may not have European offices based in Ireland, due to its strong IT talent pool. He kept his wealth & philanthropy a secret, and always remained low key despite being a self made success.
He was born in 1931, near New York, and grew up catholic in a blue collar working class Irish area. He always seemed a "great talker" with a great wit who liked to hustle and make a buck. Heavy snows were an opportunity to shovel snow as a child. He paired up with the biggest kid in his class "Moose" Foley and knocked on doors to get orders, Chuck got the orders and collected the money. Moose did most of the shoveling, he was only 8 at the time.
He joined the US Air Force and was stationed in Japan for 4 years, where he worked in communications and learned Japanese. After the Korean war, he got a free college degree under the GI bill, the first ever in his family. He went on to study hotel management at Cornell University, an Ivy league school that did not often accept catholic students at the time. It was the same school where the 2 founders of Burger King went, as did the founder of Alamo rental cars. Many of the students there were entrepreneurs looking to do new businesses.
He studied French at the Sorbonne in Europe, and ran into a British man selling duty free liquor to US navy sailors. It then became clear that all tourists would be able to benefit from the duty free goods. He visited Hawaii and discovered how the Japanese market wanted to travel more and show the world its arrival in 1964 for the Tokyo Olympics. The opportunity to bid for the Duty Free Stores in Hawaii popped up and he won the bid. This was just before the introduction of the Boeing 747. The shop soon had a turnover of over US$1million dollars a day.
The money piled up and more stores were added. Duty Free Stores, now known as DFS became the largest retailer in the world by 1980. They never boasted of the DFS profits and kept a low key profile. Chuck was estimated to be worth US$1.3 billion by Forbes at the time. It was in fact much more. This is just the beginning of his story. He is the first philanthropist to go public on his "giving while living". He started his foundation in 1984, and began to give away billions worldwide, but only anonymously.
The Top 3 Takeaways from this book that really impact any reader are:
1) There is always opportunity for anybody who likes people and tries to engage. They are all around you.
2) Only if you are working at something and in the middle of it, can you move into a new opportunity seen.
3) You can only see great opportunities from being on the ground as a participant. Inspiration is never found in any basic plan created with no input from the client or customer.
You could say that he built the first wave of high tech Universities in Ireland starting with Limerick. He has gone on to fund hospitals in Vietnam, lodging homes, bioscience institutes and many other institutions on 7 continents. In 2012, he was given a lifetime achievement award by Forbes and it was presented by Warren Buffett himself! There is too much to explain in this review, but to say that he has left a mark with his life is a huge understatement. It was an amazing read and mind blowing in so many ways. He really was the most influential billionaire you have never heard of. Highly Recommended!