How Morningstar’s $2 Billion CEO, Joe Mansueto, Approaches Philanthropy

Before Joe Mansueto founded Morningstar, a financial data provider for stocks and mutual funds, out of his home with $80,000 in savings, he ran a Christmas tree lot, sold snacks out of his dorm room, and worked at two investment houses. When he began investing in mutual funds in the 1980s, he noticed that there was no single source of information about performance and holdings.

“I thought, Boy, wouldn’t it be really interesting if somebody compiled all these things into a compendium, so I wouldn’t have to make these calls every three months?” Mansueto told Chicago Magazine. “Gee, maybe this could be a business. You could publish a book on mutual funds with comprehensive information, with the goal of helping investors make better decisions about the funds they were buying.”

Mansueto, Morningstar’s Chairman and CEO, is now worth an estimated $2 billion and has signed the Giving Pledge, promising a sizeable chunk of his wealth to charity. “I think it sends a positive message about the importance of giving back and making the world a better place," Mansueto said after signing the Pledge. “My wife (Rika) and I wanted to give a significant part of our wealth away when we were no longer on this planet. And I think this formalizes the direction we were already headed. We've been very fortunate in life. And it's great to be in a position to give back and let the wealth we've accumulated go to work solving the most difficult problems of society."

And his wealth just keeps on growing. According to Forbes, he’s edging his way onto the media scene, dining with journalists at Morningstar conferences and talking about buying Forbes Media. He already owns Fast Company magazine and is an investor in Wrapports, the Chicago media company formed in 2011 to purchase the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mansueto and his wife, Rika, gave $25 million to the University of Chicago for a new library designed by Helmut Jahn in 2008. “We both had a great [student] experience there, explained Mansueto. “I had lunch with Bob Zimmer, president of the university. He had this project that was languishing. Once we saw the design, Rika and I were captivated.”

Unlike some billionaire philanthropists, Mansueto isn’t interested in collecting a bunch of board memberships for his resume. Instead, he prefers conversations over meetings and targeted actions over broad approaches. "Rather than going on boards, I prefer to just chat with people or have lunch with them" to help with a specific task. "It's a better use of my time, rather than sitting through long board meetings," Mansueto told the Chicago Tribune.

Although the Mansueto Foundation reported a little over a million dollars in assets at the end of 2012, its total giving for the year was $0. However, we think this 57-year-old philanthropist is just getting started.

Despite that $0 report, Mansueto has been giving plenty of his money away privately, outside of the Mansueto Foundation. In 2013, Joe and Rika Mansueto supported higher education by giving $25,000 to the University of Illinois. In 2012, the couple gave over $250,000 to the Chicago Public Education Fund. In previous years, the Mansuetos have supported education, higher education, arts & culture, mostly inside the Chicago city limits.

Keep an eye on Joe Mansueto in the next couple years, because he might just emerge as one of Chicago’s top grantmakers. “We’re novices,” Mansueto said. “I have great admiration for people who do this well.”