Olav Thon, the 90-year-old real estate mogul who also founded the Thon Hotels chain, delivered quite a Christmas present on Tuesday that takes his earlier philanthropy to a new level. Thon confirmed on national TV that he’s turning over his entire fortune of nearly NOK 26 billion (more than USD 4 billion) to a foundation that will invest in projects for the public good, including medical research.
TV2 reported that Thon was keen on supporting various causes with his fortune, estimated by his accountants to currently be worth around NOK 25.4 billion. Thon earlier has been a major contributor to the Norwegian mountain trekking association DNT, to various community projects and, most recently, to the Progress Party.
“It can’t come as a surprise that I haven’t thought I’ll be able to take it all with me to the other side,” joked Thon when questioned about his plans by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on the nightly national newscast Dagsrevyen. By then the news was spinning through Norwegian media that Thon has concrete plans for all the money he’s made through a long life as a businessman and real estate investor, mostly in Norway.
“Even though I’m still fully active and expect to remain so in the foreseeable future, I’m making plans so that the business ventures and jobs I’ve created will live on,” Thon told NRK. “It’s just that simple.” Thon has long prided himself on being Norway’s wealthiest and biggest taxpayer.
Thon indicated that he’s been inspired by another highly senior and successful businessman, his friend Ingvar Kamprad, who founded the IKEA home furnishings chain in Sweden. It now spans the globe, and Kamprad also has set up a foundation to secure his fortune.
“To quote Ingvar Kamprad, who gave away the IKEA foundation and it’s much, much bigger than what I’m giving away: IKEA, he hopes, will live on forever,” Thon told NRK. “And I have created a few businesses that I believe should live on much longer than a person can.”
Thon, who turned 90 last summer but remains in control of his business interests, said his foundation will have a board made up of seven members and it will have two goals. The first is to own and operate Olav Thon Gruppen and its subsidiaries. The second is to make grants to public projects.
“We expect that we’ll be able to dole out a minimum of NOK 50 million a year (USD 8-9 million),” Thon said. “Of that, I expect around half will go to research projects, especially within mathematics and science, including medicine.”
The foundation’s mandate will be to support math, science and medicine, along with entrepreneurship. Thon, who has no children, also wants the foundation support community projects at a local level including real estate developments for the public benefit. The foundation will be called “Olav Thon Stiftelse” and he thinks it’s the best legacy he can leave to keep building up Norway.
Thon will be chairman of the foundation, members of which will include his partner Sissel Berdal Haga and Tron Harald Bjerke, the director of Thon Gruppen’s real estate division along with some other key Olav Thon Gruppen employees.