Portraits in Philanthropy: Theodore J. Forstmann
"The barbarians are at the gate" may be the phrase by which Theodore "Teddy" Forstmann is most widely recognized. But, as actions speak louder than words, it is his philanthropic endeavors that have left the most lasting impression. An admired and gregarious businessman, Mr Forstmann was equally at home on Wall Street as on the front lines in the fight for education. As a founding partner of the private equity firm Forstmann Little & Co., Mr Forstmann was instrumental in the creation of over $15 billion profit for his investors by acquiring over 30 companies and turning around such notables as Gulfstream Aerospace, Dr. Pepper and spearheading the expansion of IMG. Mr Forstmann's wildly successful business career enabled him to pursue his true passion – the improvement of the lives of underprivileged youth around the world from the South Bronx to South Africa.
Forstmann's business acumen and keen insight were legendary, and he proved his prescience time and again from the junk-bond crisis to the credit crunch. What he was also acutely aware of, were the needs of children and the necessity of having a strong educational and personal foundation during the formative years of one's youth in order for continued success later in life. Beginning his charitable efforts early on as a Big Brother mentor, Mr Forstmann made one of the biggest deals of his life in 1998 when he agreed, with his fellow philanthropist and friend the late John Walton, to co-found the Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF).
CSF, which is a grades K through 8 scholarship programme, enables low-income children to have access to private education alternatives. In the words of Mr Forstmann, "Every child, regardless of their parents' income, should have access to a quality education – an education that will not only prepare them for successful private lives, but help them to build cohesive communities and a strong democracy." CSF has awarded over $483 million of scholarships to nearly 123,000 low-income students across the country in its just over 10 years of service.
In addition to his endeavors with the Children's Scholarship Fund, Mr Forstmann was a driving force in the establishment of two institutions which aid chronically sick children in the United States, the Benedict-Forstmann Silver Lining Ranch and the Boggy Creek Gang Camp. Not content to simply focus on those children who are financially disadvantaged, Mr Forstmann co-founded these camps in order to provide an opportunity for children whose disabilities often preclude them from engaging in the "normal" hustle and bustle of an unrestricted child's life. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg remarked that "Teddy was an outsider to the end – because he knew that was where you had to be if you wanted to change the world. And Teddy wanted not only to change the world – he wanted to save it."
To help support these foundations, and others around the world, Forstmann, with the aid of his two brothers, hosted one of the largest Pro-Am charitable tennis events, the Huggy Bear Invitational. Premiering in 1984, the event raised more than $20 million to aid needy children through the work of over 30 charities worldwide.
Despite having once been quoted as remarking that charity was a duty of the rich and, "something you did but didn't shout about," Forstmann's dedication and perseverance on behalf of his causes are true testaments to his character and his desire to inspire others to assist in the charitable works of which he was a part. In February of 2011, Forstmann signed "The Giving Pledge," which was conceived as a means by which to invite American billionaires to commit at least half of their wealth to charitable causes. "I've tried to live by the motto, 'You save one life and you save the world.' I hope that by joining the The Giving Pledge, it will encourage others to do the same," Mr Forstmann said.
Clearly, Mr Forstmann was as committed to giving back to the public as he was to ensuring that his shareholders received a superlative return on their investments. Former Secretary of State George Schultz attests, "He pitched in with himself... he wanted to succeed in philanthropy as much as he did in business." His unwavering commitment and personal dedication to his causes serves as a testament to his loyalty to this very esteemed set of beneficent ideals – ones that will continue to manifest themselves through the good works that he was able to accomplish throughout his life.
In addition to being a savvy businessman and active philanthropist, Mr Forstmann was also an avid collector of art, and this May Sotheby's is honored to offer for sale works by Fernando Botero and Rufino Tamayo from his collection. Sotheby's Stephane Connery affirms that "Forstmann strove for excellence in business and in life, which carried through effortlessly into his art collecting. He constantly reevaluated and refined his collection, keeping it fresh, fluid and ever-evolving." The works to be offered this spring are described by Connery as "Strong, powerful images," which does not come as a surprise as they were collected by a man who could be described using the same words.