Lorry Lokey: “Unstoppable” Donor

Lokey’s philosophy of generosity is simple: “If I can’t take it with me, then why not leave it here and enjoy the results?”

lokeylorry1336-sb13*304Highlighting Excellence Generosity from San Francisco Business Times by Renée Frojo

Lorry Lokey is on a mission to give it all away — and then some.

“His goal of making money, at this point, is to give it away,” said Howard Pearson, senior philanthropic adviser and development legal counsel at Stanford University, Lokey’s alma mater, where much of his generosity has been directed. “It seems he’s unstoppable.”

In his generous lifetime, the celebrated philanthropist has given away $702.5 million of his own money — virtually 98 percent of his net worth — with a goal of donating $1 billion before he goes.

While he gives a small amount to a handful of charities and performing arts organizations, Lokey has developed a reputation for giving away huge sums to fund ground-up projects. Because in his eyes, the bigger the gift, the bigger the impact. And that’s the point of giving, he said.

“There is a huge thrill for those of us who give big — and that’s to see things happen,” Lokey said.

As a child who grew up during the Great Depression, Lokey said he realized the value of money early on. He inherited his charitable nature from his parents, who even through rough times gave to organizations they supported.

By his late 20s, Lokey already was giving away 10 percent of his income, starting with gifts to his local temple and Stanford, which he attended as an undergraduate.

“Now 10 percent isn’t enough,” he said. And so, his gifts have grown bigger.

Among his largest donations are $134 million to the University of Oregon — he grew up in Portland — $37 million to Santa Clara University, $35 million to Mills College in Oakland, which his daughter Ann attended, and $33 million to the Technion Institute in Haifa.

His most recent gift came in June in the form of a $2.5 million donation to Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City. The donation completed a $20 million capital campaign to establish a building and technology fund at the Sequoia Hospital Foundation to keep up with new technological advances.

It’s an endless job and it’s a bottomless pit,” he said. “Just like my investments in education, there’s always room for more and better, which, in a way, is what makes it intriguing.”

Perhaps his proudest and most recognized contribution is the $75 million he gave to help fund Stanford’s $200 million stem cell research building. The four-story building is the largest of its kind in the country and has been recognized as a leading research institution.

That gift, he said, was an investment in the future — one he believes will continue to pay off even long after he’s gone. “Scientific innovation is the most important industry of our time,” he said. “Within the next decade, a hundred million people might be alive that might not otherwise because of advancements in stem cells.”

“He asks you what your priorities are and how you do things, but once he gifts the gift, he doesn’t meddle,” said Janet Holmgren, former president of Mills College, where Lokey’s contribution to build the college’s first graduate school of business made him the largest donor in its history.

Lokey does, however, follow up with the causes he commits to. Every year, for example, he calls up his grammar school to see what they need. “This year, I got off easy with only $25,000,” he said. Usually, he added, they ask him for $50,000 to $100,000. “Whatever they need, they get.”

“This commitment to education and what really matters is what makes him such a thoughtful donor,” Holmgren said.

And even though he’s lumped in with the world’s wealthiest, Lokey is in a class of his own. He doesn’t own a fancy plane or a boat. He flies coach and drives a hybrid. He also despises country clubs.

“I have bought myself more happiness in the past 20 years doing this than I ever could’ve if I had instead spent my money on a boat or jet plane or country club membership,”

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