[APPLAUSE] HUNTER RAWLINGS: Good afternoon, Cornellians.
Welcome to the 2016 Olin Lecture. I'm Hunter Rawlings. And I'm very pleased to invite you to listen to what I think will be a wonderful dialogue this afternoon.
The Olin Lecture was established 30 years ago by the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Foundation. And it has become a highlight of reunion weekends. Whether you are here in Bailey Hall or watching the livestream, we're pleased you could join us. I used to be president when there was no livestream. So this is all new to me.
For this year's Olin Lecture, we're privileged to have with us Chris Oechsli, President and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies, the foundation founded in 1982 by Cornell alumnus Charles "Chuck" Feeney, class-- the great class-- of 1956.
There they are. Later in the program, Chris will be joined by Frank Rhodes, Cornell president emeritus and longtime friend of Chuck Feeney, who helped to guide the foundation for many years.
Atlantic Philanthropies is what we call a "limited-life foundation." In keeping with Chuck Feeney's "giving while living" philosophy, which Chris Oechsli will be talking about more in detail, the foundation will have made gifts totaling nearly $8 billion by the time it closes its doors in 2020. I'll say that number again, $8 billion.
Nearly $1 billion of those eight have come to your university, Cornell.
As president and CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies, Chris has responsibility for guiding the foundation through its final phase. He brings to that challenge more than 30 years of experience in international business, law, philanthropy, and policy development in the US and internationally.
He's a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles, earned a master's from Columbia University in foreign affairs, and a JD from the University of Virginia. He brings extensive experience to his current position. He served for 17 years as a senior staff member at the Atlantic Philanthropies and related companies, followed by more recent posts at the Institute for Policy Studies, a multi-issue think tank based in Washington DC, and as counsel to US Senator Russ Feingold.
Atlantic's early giving was directed largely towards higher education. It later refined its priorities to focus on aging, on children and youth, population health, and reconciliation and human rights, working not only in the US, but internationally in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Australia, Vietnam, South Africa, and other countries.
Here at Cornell, the foundation and Chuck Feeney have had an extraordinary impact over the past three decades. During my original term as Cornell president, for example, as we were rethinking our approach to undergraduate residential life, the foundation's support allowed us to proceed with the Residential Initiative, which has enabled us to connect living and learning in the lives of our undergraduates.
And I do want to say on a personal note that, often, people thank me for having done the North Campus Project, followed by the West Campus Project. And it's always nice to hear this. But it's easy to be the person to whom this is assigned.
The truth is I could never have thought about this project, never have dreamed of redoing North Campus and West Campus, without the silent generous support of Atlantic Philanthropies, which enabled me, as I was thinking through where Cornell needed to go, to have the wherewithal to make major changes. It would have been unthinkable to even start on such a plan without the generosity of Atlantic Philanthropies.
And I think it's important to set the record straight on things like this, because it's very nice to hear people congratulate you on something. But I think it's essential that the whole story. And the whole story is that this never would have happened without the support, the ideas, and the kind of intellectual inspiration which I received-- along with Susan Murphy, who was very important in this project-- from Atlantic Philanthropies. So thank you again, Charles Feeney.
We also worked with Atlantic during this period to grow our scholarship endowment to support athletics and pursue academic initiatives that strengthened our teaching and research across the entire campus. More recently, as you all know, a $350 million grant from Atlantic was the linchpin in Cornell's successful bid to develop Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York City.
Elizabeth and I recently visited Roosevelt Island. The three buildings that have initiated this project are up. They've topped out. They're now being clad, and they are fantastic.
And let me add that, as we announced last fall, Cornell will be the repository of Atlantic's records so that the legacy of its giving and Chuck Feeney's can be preserved for generations to come. And here's why I like that, because for many years, we were the recipient of all of this generosity. And we were not allowed to say a word.
This was the anonymous donor. And when I arrived at Cornell, I'll never forget. 1995, I was told we had an anonymous donor. And I said, what does that mean? And people said, if you mention his name, we won't get any more money. I promptly forgot his name.
And Elizabeth would say to me when I came home, who is this person? And I would say, I don't know his name, because I had repressed the name successfully. And it's a good thing I did.
This afternoon-- and I find this just startling, to be honest-- I'm privileged to announce three additional gifts that further extend and deepen Atlantic's partnership with Cornell. And let me tell you something about these three-- $10 million for the Center for the Study of Inequality in the College of Arts and Sciences. Everyone in America today--
Everyone in America today, at least most Americans, are worried about inequality. So this is a center that counts. It's a center that addresses one of the pressing issues in the country. It's one of the largest gifts ever to support the social sciences at Cornell.
It's one that will dramatically extend our teaching, scholarship, and research on campus and with international partners to address issues of inequality. It is part of a larger effort on Atlantic's part that will direct $600 million towards inequality-focused initiatives. Do you think Charles Feeney has values? He has values.
Second gift-- $3.25 million for an International Center on Capital Punishment in the law school. This gift will build on the unique strength of our law school's faculty in the fields of capital punishment and international law and expand their work to address a critical and persistent human rights issue.
And thirdly, a $3 million grant for a new Cornell Welcome Center to be located at Noyes Lodge on Thurston Avenue-- how many of you know where Noyes Lodge is?
Yes. I have to admit, I really like this grant because it means the center will move out of Day Hall. As many of you know, the need for a dedicated Welcome Center at Cornell goes back many decades. It has been discussed many times, often at the urging of some of our leaders in the class-- the great class-- of '56.
But the project has been put on hold, given other priorities. Thanks to Chuck Feeney and Atlantic, we will soon be able to welcome campus visitors properly and create a strong and helpful first impression.
It will include a top-notch exhibit about Cornell's history. And I love that. It's not just a Welcome Center. It's the history of Cornell on display for visitors.
As Atlantic winds down its work, we're honored and grateful for these new gifts and all the others that have helped to shape the Cornell that we know. So now, it is with great pleasure and great humility that I invite Chris Oechsli to begin this year's Olin Lecture. Please join me and welcome him to Cornell.
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Thank you, President Rawlings. And thanks to you and your colleagues. In particular, Amy Russ, I want to thank you for your support and my-- not just this visit, but in continuing to build on a long and strong relationship between Cornell University and the Atlantic Philanthropies.
I'm privileged to be here in this beautiful campus on a beautiful day. It always seems to be a beautiful day when I come. Maybe it's because it always is.
OK. I haven't been here in February.
I've spent the last couple of days with some exceptional faculty and leaders who are committed to addressing some of the great challenges of our times. But I'm here on behalf of Chuck Feeney, class of 1956, and on behalf of Atlantic staff, of which there have been over 400 since Chuck created the Atlantic Foundation in 1982.
It's not Chuck's style to speak about himself or his work. Forbes magazine famously referred to him as "the James Bond of philanthropy." And if we didn't know from his biography by Conor O'Clery that he was from New Jersey, we might be forgiven for thinking he was from Missouri, because as Forbes magazine notes, he's also accurately referred to Chuck as somebody who's a "show me, not tell me kind of guy."
This year, as Atlantic concludes our final grant making, we want to share Chuck's story in a way that will inform, influence, and inspire others. The effort includes a recent grant to Cornell to house Atlantic's archives. And we're excited about this partnership with Cornell because we think these stories about Chuck's and Atlantic's philanthropy should remain vibrant and accessible to inform and inspire others. So we're very excited about that opportunity.
Before I continue, I would like to share one of those stories, a short video that was shown when Warren Buffett presented Chuck Feeney with the Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for philanthropy. In his introduction, Buffett said, "Chuck has set an example. He should be everybody's hero." And perhaps this video may explain why. So if we could show the video, please.
CHUCK FEENEY: You start off with a game plan. There's logic in making things happen now, especially if now there are things out there that are necessary. And I'm not here to tell anybody what they should do with their money. If you make your money, you do what you want with it. But I think there is an obligation certainly for the haves to reach out and to look and see what they can do.
I think we don't realize the problems that are going to be facing the need to support our kids in schools. Teach kids how to ride bikes. And some of them had never ridden a bike before. And of course, the joy of some child who finds out he can ride a bike is like winning the lottery.
Any money that people give to any good cause, as long as it's well-managed, is worthwhile. Success is success. If you achieve what you think you want to achieve, you're operating successfully. And we try to do that.
SPEAKER 1: A shy American billionaire is helping transform Queensland's medical research. And in doing so, he's saving lives.
SPEAKER 2: And he's 81 years old. Few people on Earth have given away more.
SPEAKER 3: The reclusive philanthropist donated $27.5 million to the approved facility.
SPEAKER 4: Queensland has benefited greatly from the American's generosity, which has seen him give away $6 billion around the world.
BILL GATES: Well, Chuck Feeney, who you mentioned, is one of the great philanthropists of the age.
DAVID SKORTON: He is quite likely the world's most generous and modest donor. Chuck is the man who had it all and gave it all away.
JOHN R. HEALY: The most important thing for him now is to spread the gospel of "giving while living" and to influence more people who have money to give it away and to give it away wisely.
BRIAN O'CONNELL: Here was someone external to ourselves having faith in us. And the psychological impact was tremendous.
CHUCK FEENEY: Giving while dead, you don't feel anything. But giving away today, you can see what it's going to do. And then you can modify your mistakes.
And it's clearly more than money. It's satisfaction that you're achieving something that is helpful to people. And I think you do get satisfaction out of something that happens on your watch.
In the world we live in today, there is such a need to reach out and help people. The world is full of a lot of people who have less than they need. And each time you can address their problem, you help them to move forward and to feel that life can change. And I can change it.
BILL GATES: Chuck Feeney embodies the spirit of the Giving Pledge. And I have no doubt he's inspired many of the world's leading philanthropists.
He was reluctant to tell his story. But I'm very glad he did, because it's changed the landscape of giving. He gave while he was living. He put his talent into it and picked important causes that'll have very positive impact for generations to come.
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Charles Francis Feeney, Cornell class of 1956-- Chuck was grateful to attend Cornell on the GI Bill. He was the first person in his family to go to college. That opportunity has left an indelible and lasting legacy. And Atlantic's work over 35 years is rooted in that opportunity.
In fact, Atlantic's very first grant was to establish the Cornell Tradition. For over 30 years, the Cornell Tradition has enabled thousands of students like Chuck Feeney, who needed financial support, to widen and deepen their knowledge and experience at Cornell. The thank you notes that Chuck receives from Cornell Tradition recipients are a testament to the impact of that opportunity.
Since that first grant, Atlantic has invested, as has been said, almost $1 billion in Cornell, much of that while President Rawlings and President Rhodes were on their watch in your first term. We have deep connections here. Our first US office was in Ithaca. And Frank Rhodes has served on Atlantic's board for 13 years, eight of those as chairman of our board.
As many of you know, Chuck believes in what he calls "big bets." Dramatic changes on this campus are among some of those early big bets. And the crowning bet, as was mentioned, the biggest in the history of the Atlantic Foundation, was the $350 million catalytic grant to establish Cornell's New York Tech campus on Roosevelt Island.
The facilities are not a monument to the donor. You won't find Chuck's name on any of these buildings in which he invested through Atlantic. Chuck believes that it's the people and the activities in the buildings that count. They're tools for innovation in the research, education, patient care, culture, and other activities undertaken in them and in the communities that surround them.
Buildings are vehicles for change. But as Chuck has said, it's always about the people, people like us, people like Frank Rhodes and Hunter Rawlings and Beth Garrett, people who envision, people who look deeply into the causes of things, people who make things happen.
We are pleased that the latest grant for a capital project will be to create the Cornell Welcome Center, a testament to the efforts of Ernie Stern and the class of '56 to create a portal into the history, lives, and values of the Cornell community. We hope the building will offer an introduction for the next generations to imagine and think big.
Last year, Atlantic published a book entitled Laying Foundations for Change. The book is a compilation of photos and essays that capture some of the almost $3 billion invested by Chuck Feeney and Atlantic in capital projects in five continents. What you will see in this book, behind the very tangible and concrete initiatives, were the values reflected in the Cornell Tradition. Chuck and Atlantic have always sought to expand opportunity and achieve fairness in our societies.
In my dinner last night with Provost Michael Kotlikoff, we were marveling at the continuity of certain core characteristics of the Cornell community, not only its dedication to rigor, discipline, and excellence, but its underlying character of modesty and humaneness. Chuck Feeney lives those values.
Atlantic's work on these five continents have been an extension of those vision and values. We have sought to translate these into action to bring systemic changes for those who have experienced less than equal opportunity or great injustice.
The philosopher John Rawls, who was a professor here at Cornell for many years, argued that justice is the first virtue of social institutions. His work, A Theory of Justice, made arguments about what a just society should look like. One particular principle stands out.
Rawls writes, "the priority of fair opportunity," a goal deeply rooted in Chuck's and Atlantic's DNA. Chuck has lived what Rawls calls, quote, "the importance of preventing excessive accumulations of property and wealth and of maintaining equal opportunities of education for all." Rawls wrote that "chances to acquire cultural knowledge and skills should not depend upon one's class position. And so the school system, whether public or private, should be designed to even out class barriers."
Chuck's own Cornell experience informed his drive to expand opportunities for others and to level the playing field. His vision, values, and actions have catalyzed billions of dollars of related investments, as we have seen, in the US, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Vietnam, and other countries, all intended to expand opportunities and create fairer and healthier societies.
It is those values and motivation that underpin our grants to the Center for the Study of Inequality and to the Cornell Law School International Center on Capital Punishment. We are privileged and excited to be able to support the work of Kim Weeden, John Blume, Sandra Babcock, and their colleagues as they inform and influence their respective fields and contribute to the next generation of emerging leaders dedicated to enhancing opportunity and fairness in our societies.
As we completed the book, Laying Foundations for Change, and surveyed what Chuck had quietly achieved, I was reminded by my wife of the great American architect Daniel Burnham, who was a designer of iconic buildings in New York City, Chicago, Washington, DC, who said, "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Think big."
To that, Chuck would certainly add that our daughters and granddaughters will do great things that amaze us. But those could have been Chuck's words. "Think big." Chuck is the architect of big ideas, like "giving while living," and big things that last, like many of the university buildings here at Cornell that will house opportunity and emerging leaders for generations to come.
All of us at Atlantic, like Warren Buffett said, know that Chuck has set an example for us. We hope all of you here at Cornell will be proud champions of that example. These are your values, Cornell. And Charles Francis Feeney, class of 1956, is your alumnus.
I celebrate and congratulate you on your own accomplishments. And thank you for giving us Chuck Feeney.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: Thank you very much, Chris, for those insights and for those very accurate perceptions of Mr. Feeney and of Cornell. We're happy to have you here to represent Chuck at his 60th reunion.
And now, it is my great pleasure and privilege to invite Frank Rhodes to join us on stage to discuss the Atlantic Philanthropies's evolving priorities and strategies in more depth. Frank served as Cornell's president, as you all know, from 1977 to 1995. And he's also Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences.
He's an especially appropriate person to lead our conversation with Chris about Atlantic because Frank served as a member of Atlantic's board for 13 years and as its chairman for eight. Through these roles and as a close friend of Chuck's, he has played a key role in the foundation's development. Please help me in welcoming my good friend and Cornell's great president, Frank Rhodes.
Frank, thank you. It's great to have you here.
FRANK RHODES: Can I sit down?
HUNTER RAWLINGS: I think you can sit down. I think you're over here.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you, Hunter, for that very generous introduction. I have to say that this program is being livestreamed today. And Chuck and Helga, as long as that's working , I hope you'll get a sense of the enormous appreciation and affection that there is in this gathering today for all you have done and all you continue to do for this institution of Cornell.
I have known Chuck for about 37 years now and have traveled the world with him, literally, in support of Atlantic Philanthropies. For years, he was our anonymous donor. And there were severe penalties for anyone who breathed his name. Not a single building on this campus bears his name, though he provided the funds for the construction of many of them.
He is resistant to any kind of recognition. But one exception was made. In 2012, all the universities of Ireland, all seven of them, conferred an honorary degree on Chuck, two in Northern Ireland and the rest in the Republic. And that recognition was the only public recognition that Chuck has ever received.
Cornell does not give honorary degrees, alas. But just as Ezra Cornell was the builder of our university, so Chuck Feeney is the builder of the new Cornell. And in our generation, just as Ezra was recognized as the builder, I hope we can recognize and salute Chuck Feeney as the new builder of Cornell.
Chris has been closely associated with Chuck for almost all the period of time that we're talking about. And I'm happy to chat with Chris about some of the aspects of his work with Atlantic Philanthropies.
Chris, as you think about the foundation's priorities and strategy over time, how would you say it's evolved? And how has the change from anonymous donor to public recognition made a difference?
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Well, Frank, I think it starts with Chuck Feeney and his north star, which is a statement quoted in the film clip we saw that he always thought his wealth was to be put to use to help people. And if you start with that fundamental premise, then the question shifts to how are you going to do that.
Chuck-- and I think this was something that he learned at Cornell and what I alluded to-- was a learner, an observer, a student of his environment, his context, his people. It's what created his entrepreneurial skill set. And so I think the early years of Atlantic reflected Chuck's learning, observation, exploration.
He began with Cornell and the Cornell Tradition because that is what he knew. And he understood the significance of investing in young emerging people and thinkers. Over time and on further observation, he identified other opportunities, which Atlantic picked up on.
And you were well-aware of these as Atlantic expanded in higher education and started to look at Ireland and the opportunities that Ireland presented. That, too, begin with an observation and learning, but then understanding that their government was poised to explore expanding research at higher-level institutions.
And you were a key player in that in developing a major fund that challenged government to match Atlantic's funds-- in fact, more than Atlantic's funds-- to increase the capacity of higher-level institutions, universities, in research. That came from observation. It came from recognizing that government was ready to be a willing partner.
So it was those kinds of observations and opportunities that I think led much of Atlantic's work, entrepreneurial, being a student of the opportunities, and leading to that kind of choice. We migrated, as you know, into a much more strategic framework once the foundation determined it was going to have a limited life.
FRANK RHODES: Yes.
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: And I think it was you, Frank, who quoted Samuel Johnson-- says, "There's nothing like an imminent hanging to concentrate the mind."
So the foundation adopted a framework of four programs, which were mentioned, and developed strategies to try to achieve specific objectives within those spaces. Chuck, however, always wanted to reserve some space to remain fluid and opportunistic. And so I think the Atlantic foundation, the Philanthropies, have been a combination of strategic focus and opportunity, something we've tried to balance over the life of the organization.
FRANK RHODES: And the big bets would come into the opportunity category, would they?
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: I would say both, actually. Some of the strategic work was maybe not single big grants, but clusters of grants that amounted to substantial sums targeted to specific objectives. The philosophy of big bets was really something that was very important to Chuck.
FRANK RHODES: How have you managed this balancing act, in terms of managing the funds of the foundation? Cornell Tech is a good example of a major call on your reserves. How do you manage the inflow and outflow?
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Well, that may be for history to judge how well we've done. But I think it's a challenge. It's a fluid environment. As I said, the balance between opportunities that require significant funds that may appear without a plan balanced against an intentional, purposeful investment to achieve certain outcomes, that's an ongoing balancing act.
I think the Cornell opportunity-- New York Tech campus-- we had the funds. Chuck was ready to act. I think government-- in this case, the New York City government-- was behind this opportunity.
So we were going with the wave or helping to build the wave. We weren't fighting opposition. I think the combination of the interest and support for that opportunity with Chuck's courage and willing to go big, that it really combined at the right time to do the right thing.
FRANK RHODES: And as you approach the end of active grant making, you have an emphasis, I know, on human capital.
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Yes.
FRANK RHODES: Can you tell us a little what that involves?
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Well, it means investing in people. And this goes back to Chuck's traditional interest in people, not only his colleagues and young people and emerging people, but leaders of institutions and such as yourselves.
I think Chuck saw in you and Beth and others here at Cornell the capacity to create and lead dynamic and promising opportunities. And I think that is a hallmark of Chuck's approach.
As we conclude our work, I want to emphasize again the significance of what next generations of leaders will mean to our societies and our opportunities. And so our final collection of grants is around developing emerging leaders in the themes and in the regions that we have historically invested in, such as investments in equality and developing emerging young people who will tackle those challenges.
FRANK RHODES: Yes. And although the foundation closes its doors at the end of this year, as I understand it, you're going to stay open for more years to assess and monitor of the programs that you've supported. How do you begin to judge that as you look back?
You've given almost a billion dollars to this university, for which we are enormously grateful. Do you have any comprehensive way of weighing the impact of that upon the life of the institution?
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: The challenge of measuring impact is a significant one for philanthropy. What is impact? How do you know?
We can measure outputs, like students who have gone through a program. You can measure square feet of buildings. You can measure visible numerical results from investments. But much of the impact is going to be intangible.
FRANK RHODES: Yes.
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: It's the ripple effects of people in this audience and the people they come in contact with, the next generation of Cornell students and what they will be exposed to in some of these facilities with some of the faculty that have been funded. Those are pretty hard to measure.
We hope we can capture some of those stories. I know Susan Murphy has done some work in trying to capture the impact of the Cornell Tradition and what the students--
FRANK RHODES: Which was the very first one.
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Yes. Yes.
FRANK RHODES: Very first grant.
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: And so some of those will have to be stories and human stories. They may not be numerical measurements.
FRANK RHODES: Yes. Chris, closing a large foundation that has provided such critical support for all kinds of institutions around the world leaves those institutions dependent on other sources. Could you say a little about what you are doing and have in mind to do to support people during the post-Atlantic period?
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Yeah. That's one of the most challenging parts of being a limited-life foundation is you develop relationships and, to some degree, reliance by others on your support. And the challenge for us is how do we do that-- how do we depart respectfully, gracefully, without doing damage, doing no harm.
I don't know that we'll totally succeed. Inevitably, people who have relied on Atlantic for funding may not be able to continue at the same level. So I think we've tried to emphasize being transparent and clear as far in advance as possible about what it means, talking with our grantees about what life looks like after Atlantic's checkbook is empty. And we try to have those conversations before our final grants.
But I do think that recipients like Atlantic itself need to remain focused on a mission. It's not necessarily about perpetuating the organization. It's about achieving certain outcomes. And there may be, in some cases, opportunities for organizations to merge with others, to even conclude their work if they've achieved certain outcomes.
There have been, for example, organizations that worked on marriage equality that once that was realized, for example, in Ireland, the mission had been accomplished, not that there wasn't more work to do. But the issue of sustaining the organization as a goal should be distinguished from the mission of the organization and achieving a desired outcome.
FRANK RHODES: Chris, what would you like people to remember about Atlantic Philanthropies?
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: I'd like them to remember Chuck's commitment to use his wealth to help others, that we're all here for a limited time. We talk about the foundation as having a limited life. Each of us has a limited life. What matters most?
Chuck was driven to be successful at what he did. It happened to make him a lot of money in the process. But that money didn't mean much to him, except to deploy it for the benefit of others. I think that's really the most profound achievement of his life and of what Atlantic Philanthropies has been about.
We hope that we have added to how can you be most effective in deploying those resources. And we hope we will have an opportunity to share some of our lessons-- and including some of our failures-- in ways that will allow other people to gain and do similar work effectively.
FRANK RHODES: Yes. Very good. Very good. We have time for a few questions for Chris from the audience. And then I'm going to hand over to President Rawlings to conclude the session. There are microphones at the end of the two aisles here for any of you who have questions.
Chris, you've done a remarkable job in silencing everyone.
AUDIENCE: I wanted to ask--
FRANK RHODES: Please.
AUDIENCE: Hello. Thank you so much. I'm Nicole from the class of '01. And I-- thank you. I work in Seattle in philanthropy. So I was excited that my work has followed me here.
I'm very interested in this idea of time-limited philanthropy. It seems like we're starting to see more of this in our field. We have some examples in the Northwest with Raikes Foundation and Quixote. And it seems like Atlantic was really one of the first. I'm curious if you've had some thoughts on time-limited versus perpetuity philanthropy that you could share with us.
FRANK RHODES: Could you hear that?
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Yes, I think I understood the question. I think I could hear it. Some of it-- let me answer it from two perspectives, time-limited philanthropy versus perpetuity.
The first, in Chuck Feeney's case, is personal, a desire to be personally engaged to the maximum extent possible in deploying the resources that he had a major part in earning. That's a very personal thing. And I think Chuck would say that he's derived the greatest satisfaction personally from doing that, versus continuing to make money and hand it off to an institution to invest philanthropically later.
The second is strategic. If you are capable of being intelligent with your investment, you can succeed in a stitch in time saving nine. There are problems and challenges in society and opportunities that, if addressed sooner, can yield longer-term returns.
And we are putting materials together that will be available on our website that go into some of this. And so for those of you who are interested in some of this discussion around limited-life versus perpetual philanthropy, I encourage you to look at the website. A lot of the materials that will go into the archives here at Cornell will be related.
There's a lot of discussion, as you say, in the world of philanthropy about the benefits and challenges of either approach. We're not here to say and I don't think Chuck would say you must do it one way. There are advantages to being in a game long-term. But the truth is most foundations tend to change their programs and their strategies over time. So in fact, their investments are time-limited.
I think one of Chuck's main reasons was to say, there's a lot more wealth coming after his and Atlantic's wealth. Why not deploy it now? If you can find intelligent opportunities to make a difference sooner, go for it. And I think that's really-- that and the personal satisfaction of being engaged in your lifetime to the maximum extent possible I think are the major motivating factors.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you, Chris. Other questions? Yes, please.
AUDIENCE: Dan Silverman, 1981-- I was wondering if you could comment on the rationale originally for anonymity, the rationale for breaking anonymity, and if you could give us any insight into what the discussions were like in making that decision.
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Thanks. I don't know if I caught all of that. So repeat-- I'll respond. And if I miss something, you can ask again.
Anonymity-- again, something very personal to Chuck. Chuck by nature is a very modest person and an unassuming person who feels comfortable not having to perform in the limelight. That's his personal style. It allowed him freedom to move about, to interact, at a very human level, human scale, with people without the trappings that come with formality and recognition.
That's not only his personal comfort zone. It allowed him to get closer to what he was interested in, to be, as I said, an observer and a student of the kinds of things that he was curious about. So anonymity served that purpose.
Anonymity also served the organization in that things-- we didn't require a large communications team. We didn't have to deal with influx of requests. As an operation, we could be simpler and focus on the work that Chuck and the directors wished us to focus on. So there were some advantages.
However, there are also some disadvantages. And in doing some of our evaluations, we discovered that many of our grantees felt that we had left value on the table because they couldn't reference Atlantic as a donor and that that, in some cases, would give credibility and encourage others to come to the table, as well, given what people knew about Atlantic.
So it is a trade-off. I think as we became increasingly more public or at least people became aware of us, we saw some benefits to grantees using our name to attract other funding or to demonstrate that they had gone through a rigorous process that we hoped Atlantic's process reflected.
There were trade-offs. I think on balance, though, we as an institution and Chuck as a person have felt much more comfortable keeping the limelight on the recipients and holding their work up. And to the extent our name enhanced their work, that was a good thing.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you, Chris.
AUDIENCE: So that's a great job of answering the rationale parts of the question. The last part was more a process part, which is if you could give us some insight into what the discussions were like in making that decision to break the anonymity.
CHRISTOPHER OECHSLI: Well, Frank, maybe you could answer that question.
FRANK RHODES: I can only tell you that it was-- the discussions were very difficult because these grants would appear. And then nudge-nudge people would begin to guess the source of the support. And it really set up tensions both for the recipient and the program that they were supporting.
I remember one occasion in which a grant was made to Columbia University. And I had to call the president of Columbia, Mike Sovern at that time, to convince him that this was legitimate money and was not somehow funneling illegal takings into a university. So it had its problems. And the change within the foundation I'm sure has benefited both the recipients and the foundation.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: Better stop it here.
FRANK RHODES: Mr. President, back to you.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: Thank you.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you, Chris.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: Thank you, Chris, and thank you, Frank, for those responses and for that conversation. I can't resist-- because of the nature of those last questions and Chris's and Frank's answers-- my favorite Chuck Feeney story. And I told this to Chris just after lunch.
I didn't get to see Chuck very much. We dealt directly with the officers of the foundation. But once, I had a phone call saying that Chuck would like to meet me in New York. I haven't told this story very much.
But I went down to New York to meet Chuck in some nondescript, anonymous building with no numbers. And I went to some nondescript little office. I don't know to whom it belonged. And there, I met Chuck Feeney.
And we talked for an hour or so about whatever it was. I don't remember. But we had a nice meeting. And at the end of the meeting, Chuck said, where are you headed? And I said, well, I'm going up to 70th and York to my apartment.
He said, I'll catch a cab with you. And I said, great. Great. Where are you headed? He said, well, I'm going a little further north.
I said, great. We got in the cab. And we got up to 70th and York. And I started to get out of the cab. And Chuck said, Hunter, you have any money?
And I said, yeah, I do. You want some? He said, yeah, I'd just like to pay the cabbie when I get out.
I closed the cab door. And he took off north. And I stopped. And I thought, what just happened? What in the heck just happened? I gave Chuck Feeney $20.
So that's my Chuck Feeney story. And it's more than just a funny story. It's Chuck Feeney. He didn't have any money because Chuck Feeney didn't care about money, except what it could do for other people. That's Chuck Feeney.
So now, we get to do something fun. We get to say hi to Chuck. There's a little device over there that's white. Everybody see it in the corner?
OK. Now, what we're going to do is we're all going to stand up. And in unison-- perfect unison-- we're going to say "hi, Chuck" to Chuck and his wife, Helga.
But to keep it short, we're just going to say, "hi, Chuck." OK? So please stand up. And let's do this right.
I'll wave my hand. Everybody ready? OK.
ALL: Hi, Chuck.
HUNTER RAWLINGS: All right. You can sit down.
Thank you for doing that. I sincerely hope Chuck and Helga were watching. If they weren't, they'll see it on tape.
Those of you who would like to know more about Atlantic Philanthropies-- and I really encourage you to do this-- can sign up to receive a complimentary copy of the foundation's book, Laying Foundations for Change. Forms are available in each of the class headquarters and also in the lobby of Bailey Hall as you depart this afternoon.
As you depart, think about Charles Feeney. Thanks.
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President Emeritus Frank H. T. Rhodes talks with Christopher Oechsli, CEO and president of The Atlantic Philanthropies, the foundation created by Chuck Feeney '56. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have called Feeney their role model—and at Cornell, where he has given nearly $1 billion, his influence has touched every college and campus, and generations of faculty and students.