The National - News


Sheila Driscoll tells Nada El Sawy how her great-grand­fa­ther built his berry em­pire and left her his guid­ing legacy


Any­one who has eaten straw­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries or blue­ber­ries will most likely recog­nise the name Driscoll’s. Now the global leader in the fresh berry mar­ket, its ori­gins date to 1904, when the Cal­i­for­nia busi­ness was founded by Ir­ish im­mi­grant Richard Driscoll.

His great-grand­daugh­ter, Sheila Driscoll, has taken a very dif­fer­ent path, lead­ing her into a world of phi­lan­thropy and film. But the legacy of her fam­ily’s busi­ness and her great-grand­fa­ther’s guid­ing prin­ci­ples have left their mark on her.

“With each gen­er­a­tion the wis­dom of my great-grand­fa­ther was passed down with very sim­ple adages, very sim­ple tenets of busi­ness,” says Ms Driscoll, 63. “The most promi­nent tenet of busi­ness for my great-grand­fa­ther was ‘we rise by lift­ing oth­ers’.”

That prin­ci­ple has led Ms Driscoll – who says she can­not dis­close her wealth for se­cu­rity rea­sons, but de­scribes her­self as a “woman of “sub­stan­tial means” – to co-found The Bil­lion­aire Foun­da­tion. The or­gan­i­sa­tion con­ducts re­search and helps bil­lion­aire fam­i­lies con­nect to share re­sources and in­crease the im­pact of char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions.

As the foun­da­tion’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Ms Driscoll ad­vises bil­lion­aires to use the “three Ts” – time, tal­ent and trea­sure – a phrase that de­scribes dif­fer­ent forms of phi­lan­thropy. Time could come in the form of vol­un­teer­ing, tal­ent is us­ing one’s ex­per­tise to ben­e­fit a cause, and trea­sure of­ten refers to fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions.

Ms Driscoll was in Dubai last week to speak at the Global Fam­ily Of­fice In­vest­ment Sum­mit – an in­vi­ta­tion-only gath­er­ing of more than 400 elite fam­ily of­fices, royal fam­i­lies, busi­ness own­ers, pri­vate in­vest­ment com­pa­nies and in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als rep­re­sent­ing more than $3 tril­lion (Dh11tn) in in­vestor wealth – hosted by An­thony Ri­tossa, of olive oil fam­ily busi­ness fame.

In the film field, Ms Driscoll is a pro­ducer with a fo­cus on the cre­ation and fi­nanc­ing of con­tent led by women. She was part of the ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­tion team of 2017’s Won­der Woman, which took more than $820 mil­lion at the box of­fice.

In Fe­bru­ary, she helped to cre­ate Sis­ters First, an en­ter­tain­ment pro­duc­tion and as­set man­age­ment com­pany that in­vests in projects that am­plify fe­male voices, cap­i­tal­is­ing it with $100m and en­list­ing the sup­port of celebrity women men­tors.

“It’s for women, by women and also us­ing the adage that [ac­tors] Jack Lem­mon told Kevin Spacey: ‘when you get to the top, send the el­e­va­tor back down’. That’s what these women are do­ing for the next gen­er­a­tion,” Ms Driscoll says.

She was also re­cently cho­sen to be on the in­ter­na­tional board of the No­bel Sus­tain­abil­ity Trust, cre­ated by the No­bel fam­ily, which gives an an­nual sus­tain­abil­ity award in Copen­hagen to peo­ple who have shown in­ven­tive and ef­fec­tive devel­op­ment within the field of al­ter­na­tive, re­new­able and sus­tain­able en­ergy.

Ms Driscoll’s di­verse in­ter­ests have a com­mon thread, how­ever, driven by a de­sire to “im­prove the world”. That phi­los­o­phy of “do­ing without look­ing to see what you can get back” started with her up­bring­ing.

“My mother would al­ways re­mind us – be­cause we’re all full-blooded Ir­ish – that we came from the land of schol­ars and saints,” says Ms Driscoll. “Ed­u­ca­tion was first and fore­most, and phi­lan­thropy was a very big part of our fam­ily.”

For ex­am­ple, as a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Mon­terey In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Ms Driscoll stud­ied Span­ish and be­came a Ro­tary Am­bas­sado­rial Scholar to Ar­gentina. While there, she did post­grad­u­ate stud­ies in the field of deaf ed­u­ca­tion and upon re­turn­ing put to­gether a bilin­gual pro­gramme for the hear­ing-im­paired.

Through­out the years, Ms Driscoll has worked with non-profit groups on causes that range from spe­cial needs to miss­ing and ab­ducted chil­dren.

She says that her fam­ily busi­ness taught her that com­mu­nity comes first. She tells the story of how Driscoll’s hired Ja­panese-Amer­i­cans who had been put in in­tern­ment camps dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Her fa­ther had been at Pearl Har­bour, the US naval base in Hawaii that was at­tacked by the Ja­panese in 1941. Yet her grand­fa­ther in­sisted that Driscoll’s wel­come Ja­panese-Amer­i­can in­ternees, who were re­leased in 1945 after the end of the war, after they had lost their homes and jobs.

Ms Driscoll started The Bil­lion­aire Foun­da­tion in 2013 with Richard Wil­son, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Fam­ily Of­fice Club and Bil­lion­aire Fam­ily Of­fice. The or­gan­i­sa­tion’s goal is to con­nect bil­lion­aire fam­ily foun­da­tions to each other and high­light well-run foun­da­tions. Re­search and op­er­at­ing ex­penses are cov­ered by the Wil­son Hold­ing Com­pany.

“Many of the bil­lion­aires started out very humbly and the first half of their lives poured ev­ery­thing into it ... they worked and they slaved and they built their prod­ucts, their soft­ware, their com­pa­nies. But then, more of­ten than not, they come to a point where that’s no longer enough. It’s ‘now what’s next?’” says Ms Driscoll. “There isn’t a plane, boat, train, restau­rant, lo­ca­tion, piece of cloth­ing, jewellery they couldn’t pur­chase, didn’t have. And it’s com­ing to that void in them­selves.”

Peo­ple or fam­i­lies may then de­cide to cre­ate a char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion to fill that void, but Ms Driscoll says there are of­ten re­dun­dan­cies in the types of foun­da­tions that are formed and col­lab­o­ra­tion helps cre­ate more ef­fi­cien­cies.

“Quite pos­si­bly you could share in­fra­struc­ture, work­ing space, strate­gic plans, suc­ces­sion plans,” she says. “And then, rather than rein­vent­ing the wheel, you’re now part­ner­ing with peo­ple who have been there, done that and have work­able mod­els.”

The next el­e­ment Ms Driscoll deals with is to in­spire those in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies to look for­ward and cre­ate a legacy. “They’ve had the val­i­da­tion from the out­side, so now the val­i­da­tion has to come from the in­side,” she says. “They’re at a point of what I call ‘mov­ing from suc­cess to sig­nif­i­cance.’”

Ms Driscoll helps them find their path by ask­ing them what their pas­sion and pur­pose are, but finds that they may not nec­es­sar­ily be able to de­fine those el­e­ments.

“So an ad­di­tional step that I add is ‘what is your cu­rios­ity?’ They all know what they’re cu­ri­ous about, so that’s their point of de­par­ture,” she says.

In the UAE, she says some of the char­i­ta­ble causes that have been dis­cussed in­clude peo­ple of de­ter­mi­na­tion, and sus­tain­abil­ity and im­pact in­vest­ment. In the area of food se­cu­rity and sus­tain­abil­ity, Ms Driscoll says she met one of the wealth­i­est fam­i­lies in Dubai to ex­plore in­vest­ing in a $50m har­vest­ing robotics tech­nol­ogy fund.

Ms Driscoll says that about half her work for The Bil­lion­aire Foun­da­tion is in the US, while the other half is global. After leav­ing Dubai, she trav­elled to Mex­ico to work with the for­mer Mex­i­can pres­i­dent’s wife on phil­an­thropic projects for chil­dren.

“At the end of the day, it’s shar­ing your net­work and mak­ing sure that the work is done and that the right peo­ple join to do the right work,” says Ms Driscoll.

She also serves as a men­tor to young women and en­trepreneur­s. One of these is Radha Bhan­dari in Dubai, who used to work on Wall Street and re­cently started her own as­set man­age­ment com­pany. Ms Bhan­dari con­tacted Ms Driscoll on LinkedIn for ad­vice and was shocked to re­ceive a re­sponse.

While in Dubai, Ms Driscoll gave a talk with a panel of women en­trepreneur­s on how to be a game-changer, or­gan­ised by Ms Bhan­dari.

“I would de­scribe her as one who wants to share her knowl­edge, who wants to share her trea­sure, and who wants to see an im­pact in this world,” says Ms Bhan­dari.

With the Sis­ters First pro­duc­tion com­pany, Ms Driscoll has taken her own ad­vice to find her pas­sion, pur­pose and cu­rios­ity. The in­vest­ment fund in­cludes a phil­an­thropic arm that sup­ports peo­ple of de­ter­mi­na­tion in the film and tele­vi­sion in­dus­try through train­ing, men­tor­ing and schol­ar­ships.

“One of my great-grand­fa­ther’s tenets was if you em­bark on a pro­ject, be sure to put all of your pas­sion, all of your love in it, but be sure it lasts for 100 years,” she says. “I have now cre­ated my own 100-year legacy.”

My mother would re­mind us – be­cause we’re all full-blooded Ir­ish – that we came from the land of schol­ars and saints

 ?? Chris Whi­teoak / The Na­tional ?? Sheila Driscoll, who was in Dubai last week, makes it her mis­sion to ‘im­prove the world’
Chris Whi­teoak / The Na­tional Sheila Driscoll, who was in Dubai last week, makes it her mis­sion to ‘im­prove the world’

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