Leon and Debra Black

NET WORTH: $6.4 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Apollo Global Management

FUNDING AREAS: Cancer Research, Arts & Culture

OVERVIEW: Leon Black takes much the same approach with his philanthropy that he does with his career. He tries to direct the money where it will do the most good when he funds medical research, especially when it comes to cancer. He also tends to think big when funding arts projects.

BACKGROUND: Leon Black is the son of Eli Black, a prominent Jewish businessman who owned United Brands Company. He attended Dartmouth as an undergrad and did his MBA at Harvard, before going to work on Wall St. at Drexel Burnham Lambert in mergers and acquisitions. After Drexel collapsed in the late 80s, he formed Apollo Global Management. Interestingly, while the Leon Black Family Foundation gave out more than $4 million in grants in 2004 and nearly $6 million in  2005, it shut down that funding in 2006, has since been drained of its assets, and now only makes one or two grants a year to pre-selected organizations. 


HEALTH: When Debra, a Broadway producer, contracted melanoma, the couple was motivated to give $40 million to the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) over a four year period, and Debra became an active member of its board. Their family foundation has also funded stem cell research at Mt. Sinai, and Black is on the Board of FasterCures, an organization started by Michael Milken that seeks to facilitate research by pooling the resources of academic, business, and governmental entities. Some of the melanoma research at the MRA has proved relevant to other forms of cancer, which seems to be the Blacks' rather singular focus when it comes to health issues. 

ARTS & CULTURE: The Blacks' largest gift in this area has gone to the Black Family Visual Arts Center at Dartmouth, Black’s alma mater, at a cost of $48 million. In 2013, Black and other financial-giant alumni who invest on the school’s behalf were thought to have mishandled funds; some have even been accused of lining their own pockets. The Blacks have also sponsored professorships at Dartmouth in Shakespeare and in Jewish Studies, and they gave Yale University Press a healthy sum to launch a 100-book series of biographies of famous Jews, “from Abraham to Bob Dylan.” Black is interested in delineating and preserving a sense of “Jewish continuity” throughout the ages; to this end, he also gave Birthright Israel $250,000 in 2010.

Black, a major collector, was revealed in 2012 to be the “anonymous” purchaser who shelled out almost $120 million for one of Edvard Munch’s Scream paintings. He plans to make it available for public viewing at the Museum of Modern Art, to which he gave $11.45 million; he is a trustee of the museum, as well as of the Asia Society and the Jewish Museum. Black has bold plans for “geographic expansion” at Phaidon Press, an art publishing house he bought in 2012. So art, for Black, is not merely a charity case—it can have serious business potential.

INTERFAITH RELATIONS: One of the few grants coming out of the Leon Black Family Foundation the last several years has been to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which promotes interfaith dialogue. As mentioned above, Black also donates to a number of Jewish organizations. 

LOOKING FORWARD: Black's interest in health is likely shifting more towardFasterCures, which actually has a Philanthropy Advisory Service (PAS). The PAS teaches philanthropists to “Give Smarter” by joining donors with research interests, taking Black’s sort of “portfolio approach” to funding medical research, so it's a good place to look for innovative research outfits. As far as arts and culture go, again, bold initiatives seem to catch Black's eye, and of course Jewish organizations also have an advantage. 


Leon Black Family Foundation
445 Park Avenue, No. 1401
New York, NY 10022