Retail in Asia

In People

In memoriam: The billionaire who wasn’t – DFS Group co-founder and philanthropist Chuck Feeney

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Charles (‘Chuck’) Feeney, co-founder of what is today DFS Group, one of the world’s premier duty-free and travel retail enterprises.

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Feeney, widely considered one of the world’s great philanthropists as well as a pioneer of the duty free industry, died on October 9 in San Francisco at the age of 92.

His passing was announced by Atlantic Philanthropies, a body he silently started and funded in the early 1980s when DFS (previously Duty Free Shoppers) ruled the duty free shopping industry worldwide thanks to its immense success with catering to the needs and desires of outbound Japanese travellers from 1964 onwards.

Atlantic Philanthropies said: “We mourn the loss of Atlantic founder Charles F. Feeney, who devoted his entire personal fortune to global philanthropy in his lifetime.”

“Chuck was as passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of others as he was about being successful at business,” said Atlantic Philanthropies president and CEO, Christopher G. Oechsli.

“He cared more about being effective at what he did than about amassing wealth or collecting awards. In philanthropy, that meant being present and engaged in an unassuming manner with the people and their work who, with his support, could improve the lives of others in meaningful and lasting ways.”

Chuck Feeney’s personal, business and philanthropic life was brilliantly captured in Irish writer Conor O’Clery’s The Billionaire Who Wasn’t (taglined ‘How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune’).

The remarkable story of DFS and its co-founder Robert (Bob) Warren Miller – who remains at 90 an active DFS shareholder – was also documented in Miller’s Tale, Martin Moodie’s biography of Miller published privately in 2022.

Moodie wrote of the relationship between the two: “It is the story of an intriguing and profoundly unlikely partnership between two men, Miller and Feeney, sustained over three decades despite deep contrasts in personality and philosophy. That bond was stretched and then shattered by a bitter fall-out leading up to Feeney’s decision to sell to LVMH in 1996.

He continued: “They were the ultimate odd couple, a partnership born out of common geographic, socio-demographic and educational backgrounds, but sustained for 36 years in the face of polar opposite personalities.”

“It was a dance,” said former DFS executive Sharon Weiner of the Miller/Feeney relationship in Miller’s Tale. “They were ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’ to quote Robert Frost. One took one road and one took another.

“It worked because Chuck was always Mr. Inside and Bob was Mr. Outside. Every cliché in the world works. Introvert-extrovert. Yin and yang. But it was masterful of both of them to appreciate the yin to the yang and for both to hang in together for 36 years.”