Charles Francis Feeney (born April 23 1931 in Elizabeth, New Jersey) is an Irish-American businessman and philanthropist and the founder of The Atlantic Philanthropies, one of the largest private foundations in the world. He made his fortune as a co-founder, with Robert Warren Miller, of the Duty Free Shoppers Group. The concept of “duty free shopping”—offering high-end concessions to travelers, free of import taxes—was in its infancy when, along with Miller, Feeney founded DFS on November 7, 1960. DFS began operations in Hong Kong (where it retains its corporate headquarters), later expanding to Europe and other continents. DFS’ first major breakthrough came in the early 1960s, when it secured the exclusive concession for duty-free sales in Hawaii, allowing it to market its products to Japanese travelers.
DFS eventually expanded to off-airport duty-free stores and large downtown Galleria stores, and became the world’s largest travel retailer. In 1996, Miller’s and Feeney’s interests were acquired by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), the French luxury goods group, for $1.63 billion. Miller still retains a 31% share of the company. In March 2011, Feeney was inducted into Irish America magazine’s Hall of Fame. In 1997, Time Magazine said: “Feeney’s beneficence already ranks among the grandest of any living American.
Feeney, an Irish-American with dual citizenship, was born in New Jersey during the Great Depression and came from a modest background of blue collar Irish-American parents in Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA. His ancestry traces to County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. He served as a U.S. Air Force radio operator during the Korean War, and began his career selling duty-free liquor to US Naval personnel at Mediterranean ports in the 1950s.
In 2012, in an historic event, all the universities of Ireland, North and South, jointly conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Laws on Feeney. During the year, he also received the Republic of Ireland’s Presidential Distinguished Service Award for Irish Abroad, and the UCSF Medal for outstanding personal contributions to the University of California, San Francisco’s health science mission.
Feeney has four daughters and one son. He married twice. His first wife, named Danielle, is French. His second wife is named Helga.
Known for his frugality, Feeney flies coach class, owns neither a home nor a car, and wears a $15 watch.
Giving away his fortune
Chuck Feeney is the James Bond of philanthropy. Over the last 30 years he’s crisscrossed the globe conducting a clandestine operation to give away a $7.5 billion fortune derived from hawking cognac, perfume and cigarettes in his empire of duty-free shops. His foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, has funneled $6.2 billion into education, science, health care, aging and civil rights in the U.S., Australia, Vietnam, Bermuda, South Africa and Ireland. Few living people have given away more, and no one at his wealth level has ever given their fortune away so completely during their lifetime. The remaining $1.3 billion will be spent by 2016, and the foundation will be shuttered in 2020. While the business world’s titans obsess over piling up as many riches as possible, Feeney is working double time to die broke.