NET WORTH: $1.61 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Farallon Capital Management, Hellman & Friedman
FUNDING AREAS: Environment, Alternative Energy, Education
OVERVIEW: Thomas Steyer is a huge proponent of alternative energy, as well as a strong believer in philanthrocapitalism, and directs his giving toward projects and institutions that promote environmental sustainability, and are also working toward commercial viability, primarily funding research and policy centers at the universities, and engaging in political advocacy.
BACKGROUND: Thomas Steyer grew up in a Jewish family New York City. He attended Philips Exeter and the Yale before receiving his MBA from Stanford. He began his career on Wall St. at Morgan Stanley. In 1986, he became a partner a Hellman & Friedman, a San Francisco-based private equity firm, and also founded Farallon Capital Management. He and his wife Kat are also founders of OneCalifornia Bank, now known as Beneficial State Bank, an Oakland-based community development bank. They also own the TomKat Ranch, which raises cattle that feed on native grasses, and is committed to environmental sustainability.
ENVIRONMENT: While Steyer and Taylor's largest gifts have gone to educational institutions with which he is already affiliated, they have been driven by his passion for the environment, and particularly alternative energy. Their largest contribution has been to Stanford, where they gave $40 million to create the The TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, and another $7 million to create the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy & Finance, a joint program of Stanford's law and business schools. The TomKat Center offers seed grants to researchers investigating both the science and the economics behind sustainable energy; together with Stanford’s Precourt Institute, it offered $2.2 million dollars in grants in 2013 to eight renewable energy projects. They've also given $25 million to Yale to establish the Energy Science Institute.
Steyer has also made big donations to advocacy and policy groups that deal with environmental and clean energy issues, including more than $5 million to help successfully defeat Proposition 23, which would have suspended laws aimed at greenhouse gas reduction in California. He also donated about $32 million to help pass Proposition 39, the California Clean Energy Jobs Act, a bipartisan measure designed to close a tax loophole for out of state businesses while creating clean energy jobs in California.
He's also a cofounder of the Advanced Energy Economy Institute, which promotes dialogue about creating a supportive business climate for advanced technology companies, mostly by funding political advocacy. The Institute, to which Steyer has donated $10 million, contributed over $30,000 in 2012 to PACs to promote—and, no doubt, shape—energy policy. Interestingly, though Steyer is known as a major Democratic donor, these contributions were bipartisan; in fact, the majority of backing went to Republicans.
EDUCATION: Much of Steyer's giving in education is an offshoot of his commitment to the environment. In addition to the major gifts to Yale and Stanford, Steyer is a Founding Board Member of The Center for the Next Generation, where he has contributed at least $15 million. The Center promotes sustainable energy, but also focuses on children and families, working primarily on educational policy. He is also on the Board of Advisors at Common Sense Media, another nonpartisan group, which focuses on “digital citizenship” and provides educational programs for kids free of cost, usually run through local schools. The organization has received approximately $35 million in grants and contributions over the last 5 years, a significant portion of which presumably came from Steyer and Taylor. It also gives out a handful of grants per year, though the total amount has only been $100,000-$200,000.
NUTRITION: The TomKat Ranch isn't just a sustainable business that produces environmentally friendly beef; they also have a philanthropic arm that underwrites healthy food programs.
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT: Steyer and Taylor are major contributors to OneRoof in India, which provides access to computer technology for rural students and residents.
BAY AREA COMMUNITY: Steyer and Taylor have donated the entirety of their interest in the $22.5 million investment they made to found Beneficial State Bank to the Beneficial State Foundation. The foundation's mission is to engage in educational and charitable activities that eliminate discrimination, encourage affordable housing, alleviate economic distress, stimulate community development and improve the financial capacity for individuals and businesses.
LOOKING FORWARD: Steyer is rather singularly focused on the environment, and we could see him become more active with major organizations pushing for climate change, particularly policy organizations.