"The man who dies rich, dies in disgrace." — Sir Tom Hunter.
In 2007, considerable publicity was given to the announcement that Sir Tom Hunter would be donating £1b to charity during his lifetime. It was said that this was one of Britain’s largest ever charitable donations and the largest ever by an individual. This announcement follows a lifetime dedicated to philanthropy, a habit that Sir Tom attributes to his father. Jack McConnell, former first Minister of Scotland, is full of admiration and praise for the businessman. "His philanthropic work and the creative way that he has thrown himself into that has been one of the most significant drivers for change in Scotland in the last decade." McConnell goes on to define his work as a "genuine approach to change the way things are done" and as a catalyst for change, not just a simple giveaway. In this way, Sir Tom is teaching people to fish, not just providing them with a fish to eat.
Born in the spring of 1961 in Ayrshire, Scotland, the young Hunter soon got a taste of economic hardship when the dominant coal industry went into decline in the area. As the family business closed he went off to study business in Strathclyde and came up with the idea of selling sneakers, known as trainers, in Britain. From that humble beginning emerged the famous Sports Division brand, one of Britain’s largest retailers, which at its peak featured some 250 stores. After 14 years of operation he sold the business for just under £300m.
While he had been known for his generosity up to that point, the sale of Sports Division proved the catalyst and initiated a specific venture to aid his philanthropy. The Hunter Foundation was established by Sir Tom and his wife Marion and initially focused on nurturing primary education within Scotland. His efforts were recognized by the government, which led to a general change across the Scottish educational system.
In 2001 he founded investment firm West Coast Capital, which allowed him to take up a major share in a number of prominent retailers. He continued to give and coined a term "venture philanthropy," which further underlined his policy of making pledge investments to leverage the efforts of other investors and to help ensure that the initiatives were effectively delivered. It is rumored that he refused to move to an offshore tax haven as, in his view, money was "only half of the equation." Thus he has remained in his native Scotland despite what many have viewed as adverse tax consequences.
Sir Tom has close ties to former president Bill Clinton and has donated to his foundation as well as to a jointly-titled African development initiative. He continues to attract recognition for his philanthropy and received a knighthood from HM the Queen for his services, in 2005.
While the current recession has put on hold his plans to donate £1b, he still sees the pledge as part of the bigger picture and fully intends to make good on his life promise in the future.