Phil Villers

Philanthropy Through Action

Phil VillersI came to the U.S. when I was five, fleeing France with my family two hours ahead of the German army. This experience may have helped to shape my social conscience. As a young man, my father pushed me toward sciences and engineering, so I became a mechanical engineer. Then, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was struck by realizing I was almost as old as King was; if I was serious about acting on my social conscience, I had better get started.

That very afternoon I considered several options and decided the best path for me was to start a company. I vowed to use whatever influence and money I gained for change.

After 10 years in business, growing three computer companies, it was time for action. I determined an ambitious yet focused goal: to improve quality of elder people’s lives. My wife and I held brainstorming strategy sessions in our home with the smartest people we could gather. I committed 50 percent of my $80 million in stock to the endeavor. Later our focus migrated to advocating for quality, affordable health and long term care for all, regardless of age.

Through the years, I have wrestled with how to use my wealth influentially without flaunting it. I was and am president of Families USA, but found an executive director who could do that job better than I could do it. I’ve had no regrets about the money I gave – that’s why I earned it to begin with.

Money has been just one piece of the much more important context of how I live my life. My advice to others is this: figure out what you really want to do with your life and your money, and then do it.

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The Million Dollar List, compiled by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, documents publicly announced gifts of $1 million or more. The Million Dollar List is not a comprehensive record of all million-dollar-plus gifts.

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