The Walton Family
The Walton Family
Amount donated: difficult to ascertain due to the way in which the Walton Family Foundation is funded (see main article)
Philanthropic causes: education, environmental, art
Region of philanthropic focus: USA (particularly Arkansas)
Ranking: 1st, America’s Richest Families (Forbes, 2015)
Net Worth: $149bn (Forbes, 2015)
Source of wealth: Retail
The richest family in the world, the Waltons owe their fortune to the success of the Wal-Mart, the world’s largest supermarket chain.
Wal-Mart was founded by businessman Sam Walton (1918-92) and his brother James (Bud) (1921-95), with the first store opening in Arkansas in 1962. From this, Wal-Mart has risen to become a multinational retail giant with over 11,000 outlets in 27 countries. Over 50% of the company is still owned collectively by the brothers’ descendants; of these, the richest are Sam’s children James (Jim), Alice and Robson (Rob) who are on an individual basis ranked respectively as the 15th, 16th and 17th richest billionaires in the world. Their sister-in-law Christy was reckoned to be the world’s richest woman until it was revealed last year that she had actually inherited less Wal-Mart stock than had been commonly believed after her husband John’s death, with most of his part of the family fortune going to charitable trusts and their son Lukas. Bud’s children, Ann (the wife of entrepreneur Stan Kroenke) and Nancy, also own enough Wal-Mart stock to make them billionaires in their own right.
The family’s philanthropy is inconspicuous – they have long been criticised for not giving as much as other billionaires (in recent years this has tied in with criticism of Wal-Mart’s business practices, especially low pay of employees). The Walton Family Foundation, which focuses on awarding grants for environmental work, improving primary and secondary education and investment in north-west Arkansas, was established in 1988 by Sam Walton, despite his well-known refusal to contribute to philanthropic causes.
Since his death, the family was reported to have increased its charitable giving, with (for example) a $300m donation from the Walton Family Foundation to the University of Arkansas in 2002. However, in 2014 a report funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union found that contributions from individual family members represented a very small part of the family foundation’s income, the bulk of which comes from charitable lead annuity trusts set up by the estates of late family members (such trusts are often used to help wealthy families avoid estate and gift taxes).
Some family members do have their own philanthropic projects. For example, Alice – a lifelong art collector – founded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2011. The first major art museum to open in the USA since the 1970s, it is located in Bentonville, Arkansas which is also home to Wal-Mart’s headquarters. The museum, which received an $800m grant from the family’s foundation, includes many works from her private collection. In a 2011 interview, she said that: “For years I’ve been thinking about what we could do as a family that could really make a difference in this part of the world … I thought this is something we desperately need.” Christy is on the board of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, an educational charity established by her late husband. Her son Lukas has been described as a “philanthropist focused on environmental innovation”, although little is known of his activities.
There have been hints of anonymous philanthropic activity on the part of some family members. For example, the mayor of National City, California – where Christy lived with John prior to his death in 2005 – has said that: “The Waltons were always very good at being very philanthropic to youth programs, but they always did it anonymously.”
(l-r: Jim, Alice and Rob Walton)
Sourced from Forbes