The Most Impactful Families in America
How They Created Their Wealth: A child of the counterculture, Roxanne Quimby earned a degree from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1972 and then moved to Maine, where she built a cabin in the woods and gave birth to twins as a single mother. As luck would have it, she met a beekeeper, Burt Shavitz, in the 1980s while hitchhiking and soon started selling products made from his beeswax at county fairs. Over time, she expanded to a range of health and beauty products and built the nationally recognized Burt’s Bees brand. Shavitz and Quimby had a falling-out in 1999, and she bought his share of the company for $130,000. In 2007, Quimby sold the company to Clorox for $970 million, receiving some $300 million for her stake.
Their Impact: With the sale of Burt’s Bees, Quimby was free to pursue almost anything she wanted, and she honed in on an abiding passion for the environment and natural world. She gradually purchased more than 100,000 acres of timberland around Mt. Katahdin in Maine with the intention of turning it into a national park, the first new park in the country created by a private donation in more than four decades.
Yet by 2011, local resistance to the project was at a fever pitch, driven by struggling timber workers. To turn things around, Quimby stepped back and let her children Hannah Quimby and Lucas St. Clair take the lead. Hannah, who runs the family’s charitable foundation, and Lucas, who headed up the Elliotsville Plantation, which included the family’s land holdings, took charge of the charm and lobbying offensive. Their push was successful, and in 2016, president Barack Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. St. Clair ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018, but it’s unlikely he’s going to disappear from the public sphere anytime soon.
How They Created Their Wealth: Stryker Corp., one of the world’s largest medical device companies, was founded in 1941 by Dr. Homer Stryker as the Orthopedic Frame Co., which made hospital beds and an innovative saw for removing casts. The company, which went public in 1979 and has made numerous acquisitions, generated $13.6 billion last year and now has a market cap of $82 billion.
Their Impact: The fortune that Homer Stryker built has helped his family become one of the nation’s most philanthropic. His granddaughter Patricia is a major supporter of arts initiatives in Colorado, where she resides, and a backer of Democratic politics. Another granddaughter, Ronda, continues to sit on the company’s board and was the driving force behind an initially anonymous $100 million donation to Western Michigan University’s medical school. Homer’s grandson, Jon, is a prominent architect, a backer of New York’s High Line development and founder of the Arcus Foundation, which is a leader in promoting primate conservation and supporting global LGBTQ rights.
How They Created Their Wealth: The King Ranch is one of the world’s largest ranches, with over 800,000 acres—some 1,300 square miles—in Texas. It’s also highly diversified, and the company is a monument to a single family’s ability to shape an entire region. Former steamboat captain Richard King founded the ranch in 1853, and through a series of acquisitions, it grew larger than the state of Rhode Island. King’s son-in-law, Robert Justus Kleberg, later took over leadership of the ranch and was instrumental in expanding it and developing southeast Texas around the aptly named Kleberg County and the town of Kingsville. King’s grandson, Robert J. Kleberg Jr., accumulated about another 14 million acres globally with properties stretching, according to Texas Monthly, from Australia to Argentina. Now, 166 years later, the King ranch remains in the family and generates revenue from everything from cattle to oil and gas. It is also the nation’s largest citrus distributor.
Their Impact: The ranch was an early leader in bringing conservation efforts to American agriculture and claims it was the first ranch to put a wildlife biologist on staff, in 1945. More recently, King Ranch has been a leader in innovation in ranching through its Institute for Ranch Management at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Since launching its foundation in 1950, the family has given away some $310 million, with a particular focus on causes with a high local impact, such as researching a Zika vaccine and recruiting doctors to help underserved farmworkers in the Rio Grande Valley. Beyond these achievements, the family and the ranch have assiduously cultivated a luxurious Old West aesthetic via a line of high-quality leather goods and have put their brand on everything from the King Ranch edition of the Ford-150 to a new line of Beechcraft King Air 350i planes. Long before the world had heard of the Kardashians, the Kings and Klebergs had built a family brand that endures.
How They Created Their Wealth: Joe Lewis was born in 1937 into a working-class Jewish family that lived above the Roman Arms pub in London’s East End. The pressure to work was intense, and Lewis quit school and joined the family catering business when he was just 15. He was a natural entrepreneur, growing the business, selling it and using the proceeds to enter the foreign exchange market in 1975. Lewis relocated to the Bahamas as a tax exile and joined George Soros in his play against the British pound in 1992. After the famed Black Wednesday debacle on September 16, 1992, Lewis’ business empire expanded rapidly; his investment firm, Tavistock Group, now operates in 11 nations and includes hundreds of companies, sports teams such as Tottenham Hotspur and ambitious, multi-use developments such as Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla.
Their Impact: Deeply private, Lewis has been married twice and has two children by his first marriage, one of whom, Vivienne, runs the Lewis family foundation (it generally gives anonymously and primarily in cities where the company operates). His son Charlie, a Tavistock executive, keeps an equally low profile. But the company has earned a reputation for excellence in its investments and its innovations. Lake Nona, for example, a designed health and wellness community with a focus on fitness, sports and technology, is a model for how future cities might operate. Its Medical City also includes the Orlando VA Medical Center, the first new veterans’ hospital to be built in decades.
How They Created Their Wealth: A native of Bayside, Queens, Jules Kroll attended Cornell and studied law at Georgetown before joining RFK’s presidential campaign. He then practiced law as an assistant district attorney in New York. When his father, Herman, fell ill, Jules took a leave from the district attorney’s office to run the family printing business. While running the business, Jules dealt firsthand with low-level graft and corporate corruption, and in 1972 he launched J. Kroll Associates, a corporate intelligence and detective agency. Its first client was Marvel Comics, which paid Kroll to prevent graft at its printers. Bolstered by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, the firm would expand globally, and Jules sold Kroll in 2004 for $1.9 billion.
Their Impact: Following the 2008 financial crisis, Jules Kroll reentered business, founding the Kroll Bond Rating Agency and K2 Intelligence, where his son Jeremy is CEO. He remains a massively influential figure in corporate intelligence, a field that, as the New Yorker’s William Finnegan put it in 2009, “he is widely credited with having created.” Kroll’s greatest influence, said Finnegan, may be as a keeper of secrets—“innumerable embarrassing, probably career-destroying, possibly corporation-destroying secrets.”
How They Created Their Wealth: Leon Leonwood Bean founded L.L. Bean in 1912 with one product: the Maine Hunting Shoe, more commonly known as duck boots. He grew the company via a mail-order catalog. Now, more than a century after its foundation, L.L. Bean is still owned and operated by Bean’s family. His grandson, Leon Gorman, took charge in 1967 and stepped into the chairman role in 2001, when a non-family CEO was appointed. Bean’s great-grandson, Shawn Gorman, became chairman in 2013.
Their Impact: L.L. Bean is synonymous with ethical corporate values, producing high-quality outdoor products backed by a guarantee and liberal return policy. Until 2018, you could return any L.L. Bean product at any time for a full refund, a policy which had an enormous impact on the company’s reputation with consumers and on other businesses as well (the company now allows returns for up to a year from purchase). It has also fundamentally remained a family business, with Shawn serving as chairman and six members of the family on the board. The company, with some $1.6 billion in annual sales, recently expanded its corporate philanthropy, doubling its annual donations to $4 million.
How They Created Their Wealth: Antonio Pasin immigrated to the United States from Venice, Italy, in 1913 at age 16. The son of a cabinetmaker, he first found work making wooden toy wagons in New York. He eventually moved to Chicago, opened a factory and began making steel wagons as well. The iconic Radio Flyer was born.
Their Impact: When Antonio’s grandson, Robert, took the reins of the company in 1997—he bills himself as Radio Flyer’s chief wagon officer—the company was moribund and losing money fast. After more than two decades as CEO, Robert has turned it around, delivering $100 million in annual revenue and reviving a company that has played a role, via its little red wagons, in countless American families.
How They Created Their Wealth: The Yun family traces itself back to General Shin-Dal Yun, who was born in the year 892 in Korea and was one of the founders of the Goryeo dynasty (the word “Korea” comes from Goryeo). Today, the family persists as one of the most successful families in the world, with family members—many of whom have made their way to northern California—leading in industries ranging from finance to technology to medicine.
Their Impact: It’s impossible to condense all the activities of the family members, yet a few standouts can provide a sense of the Yuns’ reach. Songyee Yoon serves as CEO of video game company NCSoft, and her 11th cousin, Joon Yun, is the head of Palo Alto Investors, a healthcare-focused hedge fund. His brother, Conrad Yun, runs Yun Family Enterprises, a family office that has invested in massively successful startups including Facebook, Uber and Twitter. And Joon—via his family’s foundation—has taken the lead on galvanizing research into human longevity, via the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, and has spearheaded a new initiative to understand and solve the problem of perverse incentives in capitalism.
How They Created Their Wealth: Ask Texans about their favorite grocery store and chances are good they’ll sing the praises of H-E-B or upscale Central Market, just two of the five brands of stores owned by the Butt family. What started in 1905 as a small grocery store in Kerrville, Texas, is on its third generation of family leadership and does $26 billion in annual sales at more than 400 stores across Texas and Mexico. H-E-B’s CEO and chairman is 81-year-old Charles Butt, who took over that role from his father Howard Edward Butt (who in turn had taken over the Kerrville store from its original founder, his mother, Florence Butt).
Their Impact: In the early 1930s, the Butt family established its commitment to giving through two major actions: It founded the H. E. Butt Foundation as a way for the family to do philanthropic work, and it established a giving commitment that funneled 5 percent of H-E-B’s pretax annual income to charitable causes, among them hunger relief, education, health and the arts. Charles Butt, who in 2018 signed the Giving Pledge, has spent more than 30 years supporting public education in Texas. But beyond its philanthropic work, the Butt family through H-E-B makes sure its stores are available to people at every income level: In 2010 it launched Joe V’s Smart Shop, which has grown into a chain of nine low-cost grocery stores in “food deserts” across the Houston metro area.
How They Created Their Wealth: Curtis Carlson founded Gold Bond Stamps, a consumer loyalty program, in 1938. Over the following 60 years, he bought Minneapolis’ Radisson Hotel, turning it into a global brand, and bought and grew T.G.I. Fridays, among many other hospitality brands. Today, the company known as Carlson comprises two main arms: a business travel management service called Carlson Wagonlit Travel, and Carlson Private Capital Partners, an investment firm formed in 2018. After leading the company until 1998, Carlson turned the CEO and chair position over to one of his two daughters, Marilyn Carlson Nelson. His other daughter, Barbara Carlson Gage, served as president and chair of the Carlson Family Foundation for 21 years. Marilyn’s daughter Diana Nelson took over as chair of Carlson in 2013, served two terms and then passed that role on to Barbara’s son Richard Gage in August of this year—members of the Carlson family hold five of 10 Carlson board seats. “We have a family policy that’s a good one—no one is invited to work in the business unless they’ve worked three years outside the business,” Diana Nelson told Minnesota Business magazine in 2018.
Their Impact: A hub of Fortune 500 and privately held companies (UnitedHealth Group, Target, Cargill), the Twin Cities have a rich history of philanthropy, and the Carlsons are a major part of it. The Carlson Family Foundation supports education (including nearly $70 million in donations to the University of Minnesota, whose management school is named after the family), mentorship and programs that serve children and at-risk youth. In an interview with the Mayo Clinic upon endowing a directorship at the Center for Individualized Medicine, Marilyn explained how important operating as a family unit was to her father. “Unlike many entrepreneurs today, [my father] spoke about building something to last,” she said. “His dream was to have a multigenerational organization. He wanted the family to keep the company going and the company to keep the family together.”