Leadership

Billionaire Waislitz makes $50 million pledge: Australia’s top philanthropists

Cara Waters /

Billionaire Melbourne investor Alex Waislitz has pledged to give $50 million to charity over the next 10 years.

Waislitz, 56, runs Thorney Investments and made his fortune investing in small and mid-cap companies.

The son of Polish immigrants is married to Heloise Pratt, and Thorney Investments became the shares and real estate investment arm of the Pratt family’s industrial empire.

Waislitz got his first taste for the sharemarket when he was 13 years old and he overheard one of his father’s friends say shares were the best way to make money.

So when Waislitz’s bar mitzvah arrived he asked for a parcel of BHP shares.

Waislitz hasn’t looked back, with Thorney Investments now holding about $1 billion in funds under management.

He plans to spend the $50 million on social venture capital projects through his Waislitz Foundation according to reports in Fairfax.

The donations or grants will be made via the foundation, which will receive annual or regular dividends from Thorney Investments.

“I want to set myself the challenge of spending that $50 million sooner rather than later,” Waislitz told Fairfax.

“I’m going to try to incorporate my business skills in helping organisations flourish and reach their potential and provide them with the capital . . . but also the skills.”

Waislitz says he is looking for organisations that the foundation can have “multi-year relations with” like the small-cap companies he has invested in through Thorney Investments.

“Yes we will write cheques,” he says, but the investments will be “longer-term and due-diligence led”.

The Waislitz foundation has started off with two $1 million pledges.

Firstly, to the Clontarf Foundation, which operates academies designed to help indigenous children. Secondly, to establish an alliance partnership with The Global Poverty Project, which is run out of New York.

Waislitz is encouraging other successful entrepreneurs to get involved in philanthropy.

“One of the things that I think is a little bit sad is that a lot of wealthy people wait until very late in their life before they start giving away part of their fortune,” he told Fairfax.

Waislitz is not alone in pledging part of his fortune to charity. Here are five of Australia’s top philanthropic entrepreneurs:

1. Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest: $3 billion

Last year Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest pledged $3 billion to charity making him the biggest philanthropist in Australia’s history. Alone, he’s eclipsed the amount all Australians give to charity annually, which according to the last available figures sits just under $2 billion.

2. John Kinghorn: $300 million

Kinghorn founded RAMS Home Loans and made a fortune when he sold it to Westpac in 2007, and gave away almost half his money.  He put $300 million into the Kinghorn Foundation – which distributes $15 million a year to poverty alleviation, medical research and education – and another $25 million to fund the Kinghorn Cancer Centre at St Vincent’s Hospital.

3. Graham Tuckwell: $50 million

Last year ETS Securities founder Graham Tuckwell donated $50 million to the Australian National University to pay for undergraduate scholarships.

It’s the largest single donation to a university in Australia’s history.

“I supposed I could have bought a yacht… but then how could I sit in church every Sunday?” Tuckwell said.

4. Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes: $35 million

With Atlassian’s latest share sale valuing it at $US3.3 billion the Australian software company has pledged $35 million to charity.

Founders Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes set aside 1% of the equity in Atlassian to the Atlassian Foundation when they started the company. Farquhar says the foundation is part of the “untold” story of Atlassian and the latest valuation means it is now a $35 million foundation on paper.

5. John Grill: $20 million

Former long-time WorleyParsons chief executive John Grill donated $20 million to the University of Sydney to fund a school of project management.

SmartCompany contacted Waislitz for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication. 

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Cara Waters

Cara Waters is a former SmartCompany editor. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter for the Financial Times' website and worked for The Sunday Times in London.

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