The Billionaire Who Wasn't: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune

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Overview

This substantially updated edition of the Business Week bestseller and an Economist “Best Book of the year” tells the story of the secretive billionaire-turned-philanthropist, who is determined to give away his fortune before he dies.

Chuck Feeney was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to a blue-collar Irish-American family during the Depression. After service in the Korean War, he made a fortune as founder of Duty Free Shoppers, the world’s largest duty-free retail chain. By 1988, ...

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The Billionaire Who Wasn't: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune

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Overview

This substantially updated edition of the Business Week bestseller and an Economist “Best Book of the year” tells the story of the secretive billionaire-turned-philanthropist, who is determined to give away his fortune before he dies.

Chuck Feeney was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to a blue-collar Irish-American family during the Depression. After service in the Korean War, he made a fortune as founder of Duty Free Shoppers, the world’s largest duty-free retail chain. By 1988, he was hailed by Forbes Magazine as the twenty-fourth richest American alive. But secretly Feeney had already transferred all his wealth to his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies. Only in 1997 when he sold his duty free interests, was he “outed” as one of the greatest and most mysterious American philanthropists in modern times. After going “underground” again, he emerged in 2005 to cooperate on a biography promoting giving while living. Now in his mid-seventies, Feeney is determined his foundation should spend down the remaining $4 billion in his lifetime.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post's Express
You may never read a book as uplifting as Conor O'Clery's "The Billionaire Who Wasn't: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune" In vivid, unvarnished prose, "The Billionaire Who Wasn't" recounts Feeney's meteoric rise from blue-collar beginnings in Elizabeth, N.J., to a perch as one of America's titans of commerce, head of Duty Free Shoppers, the largest liquor retailer in the world.
Philantropy UK
If (Conor O'Clery's) compelling narrative becomes a blue-print for future efforts to record the life stories of philanthropists, then the reading public might become far more aware of the major donors who have existed in their midst. O'Clery's account of how Charles `Chuck' Feeney rose from a blue-collar New Jersey neighbourhood to immense riches as founder of global retail enterprise, Duty Free Shoppers, and then gave almost every cent away, reads like a cross between a whodunnit and an airport business guru book.
Library Journal

This is a blow-by-blow biography of an unusual figure, generally unknown as a billionaire and even less so as a philanthropist. Always an entrepreneur, Chuck Feeney has gone through life seizing opportunities and doing business on the cheap, eventually founding an empire of duty-free shops around the world. By keeping his Atlantic Foundation private, Feeney was able to stay behind the scenes. By basing it offshore in the Bahamas and Bermuda, he was also able to avoid most taxes. The secrecy was broken with a Forbes article in 1988 listing Feeney as the 23rd-richest American, surprising many of his friends and colleagues, as well as business associates. Although he has continued to keep a low profile and relishes being an "anonymous" donor, he has become a philanthropic figure writ large in both the United States and abroad, yet he still flies economy class. An interesting and well-written book defining a man whom most of us have never heard of; purchase where there is interest in relation to business and philanthropy.
—Susan Hurst

Kirkus Reviews
Dublin-based journalist O'Clery presents an archetypal American success story, a rags-to-riches account with a twist. Few people had heard of Charles Francis Feeney in 1988 when Forbes outed him as immensely wealthy. He was, the magazine reported, richer than Mr. Murdoch or The Donald, richer than David Rockefeller. But O'Clery reveals that Chuck Feeney was personally worth merely a few million-Feeney had managed, through his French wife, to transfer, in strict secrecy, his considerable wealth to offshore charitable foundations. Born during the Depression, Feeney was an Irish-American kid from New Jersey, educated at Cornell on the GI Bill. A natural, bright entrepreneur, he devised ways of selling liquor and gray-market cars duty-free to service men abroad. Business was good, and soon he was selling brandy and other extravagant treats to Japanese tourists in Hawaii; the money continued to pour in as he expanded his market to Hong Kong and beyond. But despite his growing wealth, Feeney reverted to his social conscience and to active philanthropy. This dominant retailer of brand-name goods kept his own name concealed, and the code of omerta applied to all who dealt with his secret foundations. With the line between the donor and the charities often porous, subterfuges shrouded major unsolicited gifts to Feeney's alma mater, to Sinn Fein and to many other beneficiaries around the world (between 1998 and 2006, his Atlantic Philanthropies "provided $220 million for a series of building and scholarship projects and health initiatives in Vietnam.") A decade ago, the cloak and checkbook operation was finally exposed. Feeney, who flies economy class, wears a $15-dollar watch and uses plastic bagsfor briefcases, was ready to provide a public example for other wealthy people. There was a split with his former partners when the declining business was sold at the top of the market, but Feeney's ex-associates, now immensely rich, do not seem to have adopted his principles. A smart business book detailing some vicissitudes of retailing, wrapped in a vivid biography of an engaging tycoon. Agent: Esther Newberg/ICM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610393348
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 8/27/2013
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 236,026
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Conor O’Clery is an award-winning journalist and author who served as foreign correspondent for The Irish Times in London, Moscow, Beijing, Washington, and New York. He has written books on Russian, Irish, and American politics. He now lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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Table of Contents


Author's Note and Acknowledgments ix Prologue xiii Part 1 Making It 1
1 The Umbrella Boy 3
2 The Sandwich Man 10
3 Banging the Ring 16
4 Cockamamy Flyers 23
5 Riding the Tiger 30
6 The Perfect Storm 42
7 The Sandwich Islands 55
8 Hong Kong Crocodiles 67
9 Surrounding Japan 77 Part 2 Going Underground 85
10 How Much Is Rich? 87
11 Boremuda 97
12 Four Guys in a Room 107
13 Rich Man, Poor Man 115
14 Don't Ask, Don't Tell 125
15 The Luck of the Irish 133
16 Leaving Money on the Table 143
17 Rich, Ruthless, and Determined 150
18 The Wise Man Cometh 160
19 Stepping Down 168
20 Show Me the Building 175
21 Four Guys in a Coffee Shop 184 Part 3 Breaking Up 195
22 The French Connection 197
23 Musical Chairs 207
24 Cutting the Baby in Half 213
25 Erreur Strategique 222 Part 4 Giving It Away 231
26 "A Great Op." 233
27 Golden Heart 244
28 Bowerbird 256
29 A Nation Transformed 267
30 Charity Begins at Home 286
31 Geographical Creep 293
32 The Old Turks 300
33 No Pockets in a Shroud 309
34 Not a Moment to Lose 320 Epilogue 330 Index 334
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 15, 2012

    Highly recommended

    The story would have been amazing if it had been fiction. The fact that an anonymous donor was living in our recent past and gave $4,000,000,000 during his lifetime is incredible. The author had to include many facts in his writing and when I read of Kennedy's assasination in 1964 I realized that perhaps not all the facts were carefully checked. However, if he got most of the facts right, the book was a success. A quick read which kept me very engaged.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2008

    Heroes for today

    The world needs more people like this and the media should put people in the spotlight who do wonderful things for the underprivelged. I wish they would use the same hype for people who help the poor like they do celebreties. The world just might be a better place.

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    Posted November 2, 2013

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    Posted January 21, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2011

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    Posted June 4, 2010

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