In yet another example of the new wave & breed of philanthropists, Feeney made his fortune in duty-free shops. In Out of Sight, Till Now, and Giving Away Billions, O'Cleary gives a taste of what is in Feeney's upcoming biography The Billionaire Who Wasnt: How Chuck Feeney Made and Gave Away a Fortune Without Anyone Knowing . I love to hear about people who become successful, give back and keep their perspective on life, values and money.
Despite this record, Mr. Feeney is little known, a result of the web of intrigues that he fashioned to disguise his identity, his wealth and his giving. Atlantic does not appear in the annual rankings of the biggest American philanthropies because it was set up in Bermuda, to avoid the disclosures required in the United States. A rare glimpse of Mr. Feeney’s story emerged a decade ago during a business dispute, but he quickly disappeared from the news.
Now, however, Mr. Feeney, who is 76 years old and grew up in Elizabeth, N.J., is stepping out from behind his veil. He cooperated with a biographer, the journalist Conor O’Clery, whose book, “The Billionaire Who Wasn’t,” is being published by Public Affairs. In it, he describes how Mr. Feeney and his partners went into business nearly 50 years ago selling five-pack boxes of liquor to American sailors in ports around Europe, and expanded into a worldwide empire of duty-free airport shops — often one quick step ahead of police or immigration authorities.
As told by Mr. O’Clery, Mr. Feeney’s life makes a compelling saga, a fortune built on consumption by a man who is defiantly indifferent to it; what Donald Trump would be if he led his life backward. Mr. Feeney buys clothes off the rack. He owns no homes, but stays in apartments around the world rented by the foundation. He flies coach. He rides the subway or takes cabs. His five children — four daughters, one son — worked summers as waiters, hotel maids, cashiers.