Okay, we know: It's tempting to be cynical about the Giving Pledge after that recent Bloomberg article which explained that signatories are "under no legal obligation to donate any of their money, and sometimes fail to give away anywhere close to half."
But at IP, we remain bullish on the pledge, and the symbolic power of one rich dude after another promising to give away loads of money. We're especially excited when new signatories aren't dudes at all, but powerful and wealthy women.
We've written in the past about the growing leadership of women in the upper reaches of philanthropy, publishing a list last year of the 15 most powerful women in U.S. philanthropy. As it happened, though, not a single woman on that list had made their own fortune. They were either married to, or employed by, an immensely successful male business leader or were giving away inherited wealth.
That picture is going to change in coming years as more uber-successful female entrepreneurs turn to philanthropy in a bigger way. The billionaire Sara Blakely is one such winner who's already signed the Giving Pledge. Another, who just signed on recently, is Judy Faulkner, who's worth $2.7 billion, and based out of Wisconsin. She's the founder and CEO of Epic Systems, a privately-held company that sells electronic health records.
So what do we know about Faulker? How'd she make her money and, even more importantly, how's she going to give it away?
Faulkner was completing her master’s in computer science at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1970s when she was introduced to faculty who wanted to develop a program that centralized and tracked patient information. Faulkner wrote the code using MUMPS, which was created at Mass General Hospital in 1968. This work sewed the seeds for Epic and in 1979, Faulkner founded the company in the basement of an apartment house with $70,000 in start-up money. In 2014, Epic posted $1.8 billion in revenues, and Forbes recently dubbed Faulkner "the most powerful woman in health care."
Epic's clients include Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins. In June 2014, the company announced a partnership with Apple that allows patients to share biometrics stored in health care applications with their doctor through their digital record.
Oh, and Faulkner has managed all of this without going public. Not bad.
Faulkner recently announced that she would be leaving much of her holdings in Epic to a charitable foundation tentatively called the Epic Heritage Foundation, that will operate and fund outfits in health care and other areas. The donation will likely be after Faulkner's death, though it might be triggered before. It's unclear how much Faulkner's share of the company is worth, so the value of her bequest is also unknown. Some have estimated Epic to be worth upwards of $12.5 billion.
In any case, Faulkner's announcement, along with signing the Giving Pledge, makes her someone to keep an eye on, particularly in health. In her Giving Pledge letter, she writes, "Many years ago, I asked my young children what two things they needed from their parents. They said ‘food and money.’ I told them ‘roots and wings.’ My goal in pledging 99 percent of my wealth to philanthropy is to help others with roots—food, warmth, shelter, healthcare, education—so they too can have wings.”
We've seen the implications of large bequests in the past. I've written about the late Ralph C. Wilson, whose roughly $5 million foundation became a billion dollar foundation when he passed. We've also written a lot about the money waiting in the wings from the 100-year-old David Rockefeller when he passes.
It's also worth noting that Faulkner's daughter, Shana, is the executive director of Magic Pebble Foundation, which was founded in 2012. Shana has worked in the nonprofit sector and in education. The foundation states that it supports organizations in "free speech, peace, education, health and social justice." Recent grants have gone to the ACLU Madison Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Wisconsin Public Radio, and University of Wisconsin.
It always pays to keep an eye on the kids of billionaires, and even more so when those kids are already socially involved and their parents aim to give away a fortune.