Henry Kravis Has $5 Billion and a Passion for the Arts. Where's His Philanthropy Headed?

Billionaire Henry Kravis takes his art seriously. So much so that when a St. Louis entrepreneur was late in returning a quirky Jasper Johns painting they co-own, Kravis sued the guy. Such are the perils of joint custody. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Kravis has degrees from Claremont McKenna College in Southern California and Columbia Business School.

In the 1970s, Kravis co-founded Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (KKR), a New York-based private equity firm that had grown to hold $94.3 billion in assets at the close of 2013. He became famous in the 1980s for his leveraged buyouts, and like a number of titans of that era, Kravis never stopped dealmaking even as his notoriety waned. Which explains why today he's worth $5.1 billion.

Kravis has been engaged in philanthropy for years, and has a family foundation that he runs with his wife, Marie-Josee, a prominent businesswoman and a mover and shaker in her own right. The foundation is called the Marie-Josee and Henry R. Kravis Foundation.

While Kravis has not yet signed the Giving Pledge, he's a serious philanthropist and the family foundation has been upping its annual outlays. At the end of 2011, the foundation tallied about $14.2 million in contributions. In 2012, the foundation increased its giving by 50 percent, to around $21 million.

The biggest gift by Kravis and his wife is the $100 million they gave to the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recently. Kravis has also given big to his alma mater Claremont McKenna, and made gifts for other education causes as well. 

But the arts giving is clearly special. And as always here at IP, we reiterate that philanthropy is often personal. Henry Kravis and his wife Marie-Josee have a clear passion for amassing art and are now one of the preeminent American art collector couples. Housed in their personal collection are Renoirs, Monets, and Louis XIV furniture. In addition, Henry Kravis has a wing named after him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Marie-Josee is president of the Museum of Modern Art's board of trustees.

Naturally, both the Met and MOMA have received a steady stream of gifts from the Marie-Josee and Henry R Kravis Foundation. In 2012, for example, the foundation made a steady stream of gifts to the Museum of Modern Art that amounted to nearly $5 million.  

The foundation has also given to many other famed New York arts institutions, including Lincoln Center Theater, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the Morgan Library and Museum and the Whitney Museum of Art. 

Given that Kravis has barely scatched the surface of his large fortune, we can't help but wonder where his giving is headed. It's seems obvious that much bigger things lies ahead, but our guess that it may still be a while before we see Kravis and Marie-Josee really ramp up the foundation.

Kravis, at age 70, is still deeply engaged in business and shows no signs of easing up anytime soon, meaning there's only so much time and financial capital he can now dedicate to philanthropy. But when the big money does start to flow, look for larger gifts to elite arts institutions and perhaps a broadening of his arts philanthropy away from the New York area.