NET WORTH: $6.2 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Kingston Technologies
FUNDING AREAS: Education & Youth, SoCal Community
OVERVIEW: John Tu’s philanthropy has prioritized the Freedom Writers Foundation and music education, but his grantmaking seems to be expanding to include higher education, and Tu is apparently preparing to get into more traditional forms of philanthropy, having formed the John and Mary Tu Foundation with his wife Mary.
BACKGROUND: John Tu was born in China, grew up in Taiwan, and studied electrical engineering in Germany before immigrating to Southern California. In the 1980s, 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 percent of Kingston to Softbank for $1.5 billion, and in 1999, they repurchased those shares for $450 million. After more than 25 years, and $2.6 billion, since 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.
EDUCATION & YOUTH: 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 seeks to demonstrate the opportunities students can create for themselves through education, and keeps them away from the lifestyle of drugs and violence that often pervades their communities. If the name sounds familiar, it is 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'.
More recently, through the John and Mary Tu Foundation, the couple has supported organizations like UC Irvine, Chapman University, and Boys & Girls Club of Whittier.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COMMUNITY: Apart from educational institutions, the Tus support places like Pacific Symphony, St. Jude Children's Hospital in Garden Grove, South Coast Chinese Cultural Association, and the Asian American Senior Center.
LOOKING FORWARD: Expect the Tus to continue funding their select interest areas. In his 70s, Tu is still going strong in business but perhaps more money will move out of the door in the coming years.
John and Mary Tu Foundation
P.O. Box 8505
Fountain Valley, CA 92728