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New award honors Feeney for entrepreneurship, generosity

Charles F. “Chuck” Feeney ’56, founding chairman of The Atlantic Philanthropies and the university’s most generous donor, will be the first recipient of a new Cornell award created in his name to honor successful entrepreneurs who have dedicated their lives to giving back.

Through his charitable foundation, Feeney has given more than $8 billion to universities and nonprofits around the world, and to global causes focused on human rights, education, health equity, peacemaking and social justice.

Chuck Feeney, whose Atlantic Philanthropies foundation has given targeted, game-changing support for education, health care, human rights and programs that benefit children and the elderly.

Feeney will receive the Charles F. Feeney ’56 Lifetime Achievement Award for Entrepreneurship and Humanity during Entrepreneurship at Cornell’s annual Celebration conference, a virtual event April 29-30. The conference is free and open to the public; register here.

Feeney, who will turn 90 in April, will be honored April 30 at 3 p.m. The ceremony will include remarks and a Q&A with President Martha E. Pollack and Christopher G. Oechsli, who served The Atlantic Philanthropies for 17 years and was chairman and CEO at the time of the foundation’s close in 2020.

“We created this award to honor entrepreneurs who have also made incredible gifts to humanity, either through philanthropy or the positive impact of their business ventures,” said Zach Shulman ’87, J.D. ’90, director of Entrepreneurship at Cornell. “Chuck Feeney was an obvious choice for our first recipient, given the impact he’s had on Cornell and so many other organizations. And we are delighted that he has allowed us to affix his name to the award’s legacy for future recipients.”

Feeney, a native of Elizabeth, New Jersey, enrolled in the School of Hotel Administration in 1952 with support from the GI Bill. In 1960, he and fellow Hotelie Robert W. Miller ’55 co-founded Duty Free Shoppers, which soon became the largest seller of luxury goods in the world.

In 1984, Feeney secretly gave away almost all of his fortune by transferring nearly his entire stake in Duty Free Shoppers, estimated at more than $500 million at the time, to Atlantic, reducing his own wealth to less than $5 million. In 2020, Feeney reached his lifetime goal of giving away his entire fortune and formally dissolved The Atlantic Philanthropies. Cornell recently celebrated him with the renaming of East Avenue as Feeney Way.

Feeney donated nearly $1 billion, mostly anonymously, to Cornell over a period of nearly 40 years. His support has enabled academic and student-focused initiatives across the university’s colleges and schools; the construction and transformation of Cornell’s North and West Campus residential communities; the creation and ongoing support of The Cornell Tradition program; among numerous other grants.

His largest grant, $350 million in 2011, helped Cornell win the competition to build the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City.

Other virtual events during the Entrepreneurship at Cornell Celebration event:

  • eLab Demo Day, April 29, 1-3 p.m. eLab student teams pitch their businesses and respond to questions.
  • BenDaniel Venture Challenge, April 29, 3-6 p.m. Five finalists pitch their businesses to a panel of investors.
  • Fireside chat with Bob Langer ’70, co-founder of Moderna, April 30, 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering in the College of Engineering, will moderate the discussion and include time for an audience Q&A.
  • Fireside chat with Stephanie Cartin ’06 and Courtney Spritzer, April 30, 1-1:45 p.m. Cartin and Spritzer are co-founders of Socialfly and co-hosts of The Entreprenista Podcast. Cartin is also co-founder of Markid and Spritzer is the author of “Like. Love. Follow.” Kevin Hallock, dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, will moderate the discussion and include time for audience Q&A.
  • Student Business of the Year pitches, April 30, 2-3 p.m. Five finalists present their companies to a panel of judges. The winner will be named at 4 p.m.

These events are free and open to the public; register here.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

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