Incredible Life of Purpose
I am saddened to share the news that our firm’s founder, Chuck Feeney, has passed away at the age of 92. In a career spanning more than 50 years, Chuck reshaped the landscape for entrepreneurs and reimagined philanthropy around his personal credo of “Giving While Living.” He is survived by his wife Helga and five children, and by the profound impact that he had on so many people and institutions around the world, including our firm.
Chuck was a self-starter, born into a working-class family during the Great Depression. He became the first member of his family to go to college and started Duty Free Shoppers with little capital and lots of determination. He had a growth mindset and was eager to scale his business to capitalize on the growth in global travel.
Chuck’s early success with Duty Free Shoppers left him in a position to retire young and live a life of comfort. Instead, he embraced an almost ascetic devotion to helping other entrepreneurs and giving away his fortune to help others, with no desire for personal attention or plaudits. Forbes famously called him “The James Bond of Philanthropy.” Warren Buffet and Bill Gates called him their hero. To us at General Atlantic, he was “Chuck” – our founder who was himself an entrepreneur and embedded philanthropy into our culture.
It strikes me, in this moment of reflection on his life, just how fortunate we were that Chuck founded General Atlantic in 1980. Fortunate that he pulled together an all-star team that started with Steve Denning and, soon after, Dave Hodgson, who would both become critical leaders for our firm over the next four decades. Fortunate that he gave us the license and latitude to grow and invest in novel ways, based on our expertise and intuition, as opposed to what other investors were doing at the time. And fortunate that he embodied the very type of leader that to this day we seek to identify and support.
Steve Denning tells the story of a first meeting where Chuck boldly stated that he wanted to put up $50 million to start an investment firm “to help entrepreneurs build great companies.” Chuck was always guided by this entrepreneurial spirit and said that he could not have succeeded without the help of others. Chuck firmly believed that the purpose of wealth is “to improve the human condition.” He saw the bigger picture: by creating an investment platform to support growing companies, he could magnify the wealth he had – and give it all back over his lifetime.
Following this conversation, and two years after General Atlantic was founded, Chuck informed us that he had given away 99 percent of his wealth to a foundation that he had created: The Atlantic Philanthropies. The foundation would address the world’s most pressing issues, and General Atlantic would serve as the direct investment arm to grow its capital base. Chuck entrusted the General Atlantic leadership team with running the firm but often met with our entrepreneurs; he said it was the part of the business that gave him the most joy.
For three decades, General Atlantic delivered returns to The Atlantic Philanthropies that were used to support and launch hundreds of organizations dedicated to education, global health, human rights, and more. Three years ago, The Atlantic Philanthropies officially closed its doors, having given away roughly $9 billion, essentially Chuck’s entire net worth.
Chuck also inspired our firm’s commitment to philanthropy. The General Atlantic Foundation supports the communities in which we operate and the causes that are important to our people. The majority of our employees donate personal funds and time to nonprofit organizations, and I know many of you chose to work at General Atlantic because of the example Chuck set – another incredible legacy.
Please join me in remembering and honoring Chuck and his incredible life of purpose. Chuck’s inspiration to the firm and future generations will surely live on.