Ken Griffin donates $130 million to Chicago groups

Billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin is leaving Chicago with a philanthropic flourish.

Griffin, who is moving with his investment firm Citadel to Miami, bestowed more than $130 million in parting gifts to 40 Chicago organizations in June, hoping to provide a funding bridge as they seek to replace his charitable contributions.

The University of Chicago is the largest beneficiary at $30 million, including a $15 million accelerated payment of a previous commitment. Other large gifts include $25 million to Northwestern Medicine, $20 million to the Field Museum, and $10 million each to the Museum of Science and Industry and the Fourth Presbyterian Church.

The June giving spree has drawn both praise for Griffin and concern for how the city will fill the civic and philanthropic void as the wealthiest man in Illinois takes up permanent residence in Florida.

“His generosity will not be replaced,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a Chicago-based government finance watchdog organization. “Civic institutions, charitable and cultural institutions, will have to look for other sources, and go to a lot more diversified people to raise the same amount of money that he had contributed to their cause.”

Beyond philanthropic concerns, Msall said Griffin’s decision to leave Chicago was a “giant punch in the stomach” for the business community, and a major blow to the tax coffers of the city and state.

News of Griffin’s June donations comes on the same day ProPublica reported that the $54 million he spent opposing a 2020 initiative that would have raised taxes for the state’s wealthiest individuals was well worth it. The ProPublica analysis found that based on Griffin’s annual income, the state tax increase would have cost him around $51 million every year in additional tax. In especially good years, he might have been forced to pay more, the analysis showed.

Last month, Griffin told employees that Citadel will relocate to new headquarters in Miami’s financial district after more than 30 years in Chicago. The company, which has about 1,000 employees in Chicago, will maintain an office in the city, but many are expected to shift to the Sunshine State, where Griffin, a Florida native, recently moved with his family.

Launched in Chicago in 1990, Griffin built Citadel into one of the largest hedge funds in the world, with $51 billion in assets under management.

Griffin, who is worth a reported $27 billion, has grown with his company into a civic force, giving more than $600 million to Chicago organizations such as the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Science and Industry, which announced it would be renamed in his honor after he made a $125 million donation in 2019.

Overall, he has donated more than $1.5 billion to organizations across the U.S.

“What’s amazing about Ken is that he has been generous ever since he has been successful,” said Jim Crown, 69, chairman and CEO of Henry Crown & Co., the privately held Chicago-based investment firm. “He has become steadily more generous as he has become more successful.”

Crown, who sits on the boards of both the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry, said Griffin has shared his wealth in “real time” with a wide range of causes meant to benefit the city where he made his fortune.

But Griffin, 53, has also become an increasingly harsh critic of the city in recent years. In an appearance before the Economic Club of Chicago in October, Griffin cited growing crime as a major reason why Citadel and co-owned trading firm Citadel Securities were headed for corporate relocation.

A major political donor, Griffin contributed $50 million to back Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s failed campaign to win the nomination as the Republican gubernatorial candidate in last month’s Illinois primary.

Griffin’s decision to donate an additional $130 million to Chicago charitable organizations on his way out of town is “admirable and rare,” Crown said.

“If somebody is leaving, out of dissatisfaction, to use a mild word, you would not expect them on departure to have one last surge of philanthropy for Chicago,” Crown said. “The normal thing most people would do is show up with philanthropy at the place you’re arriving, to establish yourself there.”

Organizations that each received a $5 million June gift include Lurie Children’s Hospital, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, Museum of Contemporary Art, Art Institute of Chicago and first-time recipient Project HOOD, a South Side nonprofit focused on ending the cycle of poverty, violence and incarceration.

While his gifts have been varied, Griffin’s most enduring legacy in Chicago is likely to be the Museum of Science and Industry. Five years after receiving Griffin’s donation of $125 million — the largest in its nearly 90-year history — the South Side institution is slated to take its benefactor’s name in January 2024.

“It will be called the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry,” said Chevy Humphrey, who became the first Black woman president and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry last year.

Humphrey said the museum will be rebranding its logo, changing its website and adding new signage with Griffin’s name outside the historic building, which was built during the Columbian Exposition in 1893.

When the gift was announced in 2019, then museum president David Mosena said the formal name change would take “a year or more.” Humphrey said it “takes a lot of time” to rebrand an organization, but the protracted schedule was in place before she arrived in January 2021.

Despite his relocation to Florida, Humphrey believes Griffin will not lose interest in, or stop supporting, the museum that will soon bear his name, citing the $10 million June gift as evidence.

“When he is committed to an organization, I think those commitments are strong,” Humphrey said. “We’re going to continue to work closely with him through the name change and beyond.”

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