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September 11, 2015

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The laser focused philanthropy of TIGER 21.

“The deal of a lifetime comes across our desks every week if we see opportunities instead of challenges.” This kind of perspective has propelled the career of Michael Sonnenfeldt, founder and chair of TIGER 21. In this premier peer-to-peer learning network for high net worth investors, over 300 members collectively manage approximately $30 billion in invest-able assets. Members are entrepreneurs, CEOs, inventors and top executives with backgrounds in financial services, real estate, industrial and consumer goods, legal services, entertainment and medicine.

With the tagline, Collective Intelligence: Enhancing Results, Enrich-ing Lives ¬Æ, the TIGER 21 learning experience centers on improving members’ investment acumen through critique and coaching, as well as exploring common issues of wealth preservation, estate planning and family dynamics.

Success is built upon members’ willingness to share their best think-ing, experience, curiosity, and integrity with their fellow group members, as well as the entire TIGER 21 community. Managed by professional facilitators, TIGER 21 group meetings provide a unique forum for candid discussions and peer-to-peer relationships among individuals facing the challenges and opportunities of managing their wealth. Members, who have risen to exceptional heights within corporations or as entrepreneurs and have built and sold successful businesses, join TIGER 21 because they recognize these same business skills do not always translate into suc-cessfully managing one’s personal assets.

The range of expertise and investment styles among members, shared in a confidential and intimate environment of trust and transparency, offers members unique insights and immeasurable value not found anywhere else.

In his article, “TIGER 21: Meet the Wealthiest, Most Powerful Social Net-working Group in The World,” Forbes contributor Mark Fidelman describes the organization’s two primary goals as wealth preservation and how to deal with the resulting family issues. “Since members are all facing the same issues, the organization is designed for members to help other members‚Ķ”

After experiencing both entrepreneurial and wealth management success and challenges, Sonnenfeldt founded TIGER 21 in 1999 to help entrepreneurs successfully transition after a wealth creation event. Growing up on Long Island, Sonnenfeldt’s own career began in real estate at Goldman Sachs. In 1979, at the age of 24, he conceived the world’s largest commercial renovation of that time: to transform the decaying Harborside Terminal in Jersey City, with 2.4 million square feet, into office space. It took him two years to find a partner and financing to close the deal. In 1986, after establishing Harborside as one of the largest and most successful commercial renovation projects in the world, they sold it as the Harborside Financial Center, to US West Pension Fund. At 32, he had not planned to sell; his 60-year-old partner had planned it from day one.

Michael had achieved financial success but had little to do. “I had been working on this project for six years, 90 hours a week, doing and thinking little else. I faced a void and needed to completely reinvent myself.” At age 32, the last thing he was thinking about was wealth preservation. “The counterpoint to selling a business at 62 that you ran for 40 years is that you realize that it took years to make the money and the likelihood of your doing it again is incredibly low. You are predisposed to wealth management. At 32, it is the exact opposite. I was thinking this took just six years and I can easily do it again.” Now, Sonnenfeldt’s advice to a 24-year-old is that there is no substitute for hard work.

TIGER 21 chair Barbara B. Roberts is advisor to the Lang Entrepre-neurship Center of the Columbia Business School and lead author of the white paper, “Life After an Exit: How Entrepreneurs Transition to the Next Stage.” In it, Roberts writes, “Entrepreneurs must always be learn-ing and doing something. None of the entrepreneurs interviewed for this paper ever considered a long-term life of leisure. The next chapter for entrepreneurs involved work.”


According to Sonnenfeldt, TIGER 21 members employ more than pas-sion when focused on philanthropic pursuits. Laser focused use of the same skill set that brought success in business can be translated into success in the not-for-profit world. “Skills that built businesses are being used to accomplish good things.”

After selling cutting-edge photography-based businesses, Jerry Kennelly once again uses his entrepreneurial skills and creative interests to launch many ventures to benefit Ireland and impoverished people. Kennelly is recognized as one of Ireland’s leading entrepreneurs. In 1996 he established Stockbyte, a company that supplied stock photographs in digital form to newspapers and magazines around the world, and subse-quently sold it to Getty Images in 2006. The following year Jerry played an instrumental role in establishing the Young Entrepreneur Programme. The program is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to demonstrating the validity of entrepreneurship as a career choice. Its mission is to help identify, inform, recognize and celebrate County Kerry’s next generation of business leaders ‚Äì and their educators.

Ronald Bruder is founder & chairman of Education For Employ-ment (EFE), the mission of which is to create economic opportunityfor unemployed youth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) by providing world-class professional and technical training that leads directly to jobs and entrepreneurship support.

Honored by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Peo-ple for his nonprofit work with EFE, Mr. Bruder began as a serial entre-preneur with businesses in real estate, travel, pharmaceuticals and energy. In 1977, he founded The Brookhill Group, which owns and manages properties throughout the US with a focus on creating investment part-nerships to develop or redevelop shopping centers, office buildings and multi-family homes.

Mr. Bruder has been an attendee at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. At the World Economic Forum in Tianjin in 2012, he was named a Schwab Foundation Global Social Entrepreneur for his work in founding EFE. He has served as a delegate of the Council on Foreign Relations to the Jeddah Economic Forum, and a contributor to the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar. He is frequently in-vited to share EFE’s best practices at major international conferences and fora, and has addressed audiences at the Clinton Global Initiative, World Economic Forum and the United Nations, among others.

Steve’s Camp at Horizon Farms is the brainchild of board chair Steve Kessner. The son of a cab driver from the Bronx, Steve grew up in aneighborhood with few constructive activities for kids. The highlight of each year was traveling to a bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains, where he could escape the city and see the stars. Steve’s father had the good fortune of picking up a Dartmouth alum in his taxi, who eventually enabled Steve to attend Dartmouth at age 16. Today, Steve is a successful real estate executive who is fulfilling his dream of having a summer camp in the Catskills for young people with a background similar to his own.

After a career as a serial entrepreneur and civic and philanthropic in-novator, Jared Polis transitioned to U.S. Congressman from Colorado. The Jared Polis Foundation (JPF) is a 501c3 operating foundation that supports education, technology, and community throughout Colorado. Through their operating programs, the foundation focuses on support-ing Colorado teachers and schools. By providing continuous technical support to the alternative charter high schools the foundation founded, New America Schools and the Academy of Urban Learning, the founda-tion focuses on creating school choice for students who need options beyond traditional, comprehensive high schools. JPF also works closely with the Community Computer Connection to provide support for their computer refurbishment of more than 3,000 computers annually, which are sold at a significantly discounted rate to nonprofits and schools.


Gary Mendell is the founder and CEO of Shatterproof (Norwalk, CT), the first national organization committed to protecting children from addiction to alcohol or other drugs, and ending the stigma and suffering of those affected by this disease. Mr. Mendell founded Shatterproof to honor his son, Brian, who lost his battle with addiction in 2011.

In its first year, Shatterproof was influential in the passage of legislation in two states that will significantly reduce the number of deaths related to overdose, and has provided funding to expand the use of an intervention program that has proven to reduce the number of teens that will become addicted. Shatterproof has also launched a series of innova-tive events in thirty cities across the United States to reduce the stigma associated with this disease, and raise funding for its mission.

Prior to Shatterproof, Mr. Mendell founded and was CEO of HEI Hotels & Resorts. HEI manages a portfolio of approximately 40 hotels, with revenues of $650 million and a value of $3 billion. Prior to HEI, Mr. Mendell was president of Starwood Lodging Trust and a member of its board of trustees.

After selling his family’s seventh generation Tequila business, Guillermo Romo Romero founded Grupo Mega, one of Mexico’s lead-ing businesses offering financial solutions for business sectors. Guillermo and his family are involved in numerous socially responsibility initia-tives, particularly ones that help Mexico and Latin America. He is aleader in Endeavor, promoting entrepreneurship in emerging markets and helped to start the American Business Council, a forum to put in-novative leaders to work on poverty, climate change and other critical issues facing Latin America.

Guillermo and his wife are expecting their fourth child. It will be up to their children whether or not they come into the business; Guillermo says that they will not be able to do that unless they have earned the right. He is building his portfolio of companies with the possibility that if they are interested, a child can take over one of them. Most important, “I want them to be happy and I want to be a good father. The example set by me as a parent is my most important work.”

What are his dreams for the future? Guillermo says that it is sad to see that the “glow is not present anymore in the eyes of the Mexican people.” His dream is to start another company with a huge concept that will employ a very large number of people in Mexico and Latin America and help put the glow back in those eyes.

After building and selling his family’s company, Ravin Gandhi spent five years mastering aspects of wealth management and investing and recently launched a new company. Recently married, Ravin states, “We just had our first child, and I hope to raise him and future kids without the feelings of entitlement or apathy that money can sometimes bring.” Ravin also laughs as he says “Plus, I will be quite clear to the next genera-tion that most of the family money will go to charity, so new fortunes have to be made by them! I greatly respect Buffett and Gates for inspiring the wealthy to donate to greater causes.”

A generation ago, 80% of wealth was inherited; 80% now is (gen-erated) by entrepreneurs. Most entrepreneurs interviewed in Roberts’ white paper chose to leave large sums in their estates to philanthropic institutions and chose to leave relatively small amounts of money to their children or grandchildren.

“Most people who create wealth in America are Main Street entrepreneurs, not Wall Street entrepreneurs. They create productsand services. Main Street entrepreneurs are often isolated, the only person in their social circle with their financial success. Wall Street entrepreneurs create their wealth with partners and typically have a social circle of similar wealth. The Main Streetentrepreneurs come to TIGER 21 looking for a community where they can discuss what is really on their minds: how to raise children of af-fluence, how to preserve wealth and do estate planning, how to decide what is appropriate to spend, how to find advisors who can be trusted, how to gain a perspective on their philanthropic work, and how to de-cide what to do next.”

Many of the TIGER 21 Members’ different philanthropic activi-ties support education as the most important bulwark against a bleak future. To Sonnenfeldt, the concept of legacy means leaving the world a safer and cleaner place for the next generation, as well as posing the question, “Will our children be able to lead lives that aremore or less fulfilled?”

Nina Sutton lives in Southport, CT. A graduate of the Clinical Psychology program of Teachers College, Columbia University, she writes about lifestyle issues of cultural relevance.

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