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The Billionaire Who Wasn't: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune Paperback – September 22, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


'RivetingA...a genuinely fascinating bookA... As one might expect from the best Irish reporter of modern times, O'Clery turns his prodigious research and mastery of sometimes intricate detail into a tight, pacy, crystal-clear narrative.'Irish TimesA"Feeney himself emerges as a complex character, a driven and hard-nosed businessman who asked himself profound questions about the purpose of wealth, and who seems to have devoted as much energy to giving money away as he did to making itA... For America's new generation of internet and private equity billionaires, this is an exemplary tale.A"FT

About 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (September 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158648642X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586486426
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,052,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Laufer on December 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I saw this book reviewed in The Economist and could scarcely believe what I was reading. I recommend this as a great read, a great book club or church group read, and a good book to give out to the board of directors of any organization, whether for profit or not! Ok, it isn't great writing, and it probably gives Feeney a free pass on some dodgy dealing with tax authorities. But given how many people make fortunes is similarly edgy ways and do nothing for their fellow humans, the insights on offer here are well worthy of the 5 star review. Here is a unique insight into the upbringing, growth and mindset of one of the most well grounded individuals of the modern era. If you are interested in how to make the world a better place, drop what you are doing and read this book!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Next time you get a letter from a charity, think of Chuck Feeney who gave >$1 Billion away in his lifetime. And all without fanfare, without his name on buildings and streets. I found it interesting how he selected his gifts (a lot to education), and to the locations (USA of course, Ireland, Vietnam, etc.) And he managed to leverage his money by getting the government to match many of his contributions.

The book is perhaps a bit heavy on details of how he made his money (Duty Free stores), and the various schemes to tax shelter his money, and the steps to remain anonymous. He believed that one should give money directly to causes that would make a difference, and monitor the progress to see that the money was being wisely used. He distrusted Government spending which often has graft and inefficiency, and political conditions.

In short, an inspiring book well worth reading, and acting on if your finances allow.
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Format: Hardcover
In 1988, Forbes magazine's annual list of America's most wealthy listed Charles F Feeney as the 23rd richest American alive, whose personal worth of $1.3 billion was greater than Rupert Murdoch or Donald Trump. In fact, four years earlier Feeney had secretly given away almost his entire fortune to a philanthropic trust. He had enough to live on for the rest of his life, but no longer even owned a house or a car. He was, as Irish journalist Conor O'Clery phrases it in this powerful biography, `the billionaire who wasn't'.

This is two books in one: the remarkable story of duty free retailing and its leading company, DFS, whose extraordinary growth and profits paralleled the rise of jet travel; and that of Feeney himself, a slightly shambolic businessman, linguist and traveller, who took the needs of the world on his shoulders and became a model philanthropist.

It is nicely written and pulls you in like a novel. As a business biography alone, O'Clery's book is valuable, showing that huge money can be made from very simple business models. DFS's success could be put down to `four men in a room' working out what they would bid for airport duty-free concessions, and winning them. Once established, profits came easily. Feeney insisted that luck played a big role in the company's fortunes, that they reaped the benefits of being the first trusted brand in a fast-growing new field. Yet the book is also peppered with Feeney's advice to other to always `think big' (in both business and philanthropy), and in his restless desire to build a great business even the other partners admitted that Feeney had been its driving force.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a biography of Charles Francis (Chuck) Feeney, one of the world's billionaires in the twentieth century. Its 337 pages are a quick read, a fascinating story about a self-made American who gave away most of his fortune to various charitable endeavors. It would make a great case study for a business school, and I would guess that many professors will immediately adopt it as a classroom assignment.

Chuck Feeney's early education was at Catholic elementary and high schools in New Jersey and New York. After high school in 1948, Feeney enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed in Japan for four years. After discharge, he attended Cornell University's famous School of Hotel Administration. He financed his college education partly from the G. I. Bill and partly from selling sandwiches to students. After graduation he went off to explore Europe, briefly attending a French university. While there he started a shoestring business selling liquor to sailors on American warships. He and a Cornellian partner, Robert Miller, took orders and accepted payment, then arranged to have the liquor delivered, duty-free. They bout out an unsuccessful competitor, thereby obtaining the name: Duty Free Shoppers (DFS). By 1965 business was good, but there were problems with part of the business strategy. American law changed so the duty free allowance was reduced from five bottle per family member to one bottle per family, effectively ending the rationale for the liquor business. Also, the automobile business turned out to be more complicated and less profitable than predicted. Fortunately, the duty free retail stores opened in Hawaii and Hong Kong selling liquor and luxury goods to Japanese tourists was booming. By 1977, Feeney, Miller and their two other partners were wealthy.
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