NET WORTH: $5.1 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Kingston Technologies
FUNDING AREAS: Education
OVERVIEW: Tu has concentrated his philanthropy on the Freedom Writers Foundation and music education, but his giving seems to be expanding to include higher education, and seems to be preparing to get into more traditional forms of philanthropy, having recently formed the John and Mary Tu Foundation. In a recent year, the foundation gave away more than $2 million in grants, most of which directed to arts outfits and music education.
BACKGROUND: John Tu was born in China, grew up in Taiwan, and studied electrical engineering in Germany before immigrating to Southern California. In the 1980a, Tu met David Sun, and the two began selling computer memory out of their garage. Eventually, they sold their first company for $6 million, and started another organization, Kingston Technologies. In 1996, Sun and Tu sold 80% of Kingston to Softbank for $1.5 billion, and in 1999 they repurchased those shares for $450 million. Even more than 25 years and $2.6 billion after founding what is now known as the largest private computer memory company in the United States, Sun and TU still do their work from cubicles in the center of the sales floor.
PHILOSOPHY: You get a sense of Tu's philanthropic vision from the fact that he gives his employees most of the credit for his immense wealth. He appreciates them so much that when they put aside $100 million from the proceeds for employee bonuses. Some employees received bonuses that were multiple times their salary, with the average bonus being around $100,000. He also understands the entrepreneurial spirit of failing, and getting right back up again, having nearly lost everything in the market crash in 1987. "The day the market crashed was the beginning of our American Dream. Had we not lost everything I guarantee you that there may not be a Kingston Technology."
EDUCATION: Tu has been the primary benefactor of the Freedom Writers Program and the Freedom Writers Foundation from its inception in Long Beach, California, in 1997. The overall mission of Freedom Writers is to improve the academic outlook for students in underserved communities by creating challenging curricula. The foundation also awards scholarships to first-generation high school graduates. It works towards demonstrating the opportunities students can create for themselves through education and, hopefully, helps keep them away from the lifestyle of drugs and violence that often pervades their communities. If the name sounds familiar, it's because the program's accomplishments were significant enough to warrant a movie starring Hilary Swank.
Additionally, Tu is involved with an initiative in which Brazilian street kids learn to play the drums, even as they get fed and learn to get along with others. Tu himself is an avid drummer, playing in his band, JT and California Dreamin'. And Tu is famous for having donated $1.2 million to the University of California, Irvine, so that every incoming medical school student would receive an iPad.
More recently, the John and Mary Tu Foundation gave $500,000 to Chapman University, and other sums to various arts and education outfits, mostly in Southern California.
- Albert Kong, John and Mary Tu Foundation, P.O. Box 8505, Fountain Valley, CA 92728, 714-435-2640