American Century Investments, a $152 billion investment company in Kansas City, Mo., is not your typical investment firm. And neither is its philanthropic program.
The controlling owner of American Century is the nonprofit Stowers Institute for Medical Research, a medical research facility in Kansas City that draws scientists from around the globe to do cutting-edge research on cancer and degenerative diseases. The $300 million facility is home to 500 scientists.
Thanks to its ownership stake, the Stowers Institute is ensured a steady flow of income from American Century. That is, as long as it is profitable, which it has been for decades. The funding arrangement frees its scientists to do long-term medical research without the distraction of fund-raising or the pressure of producing faster results for donors, says Dr. David Chao, president and CEO of the Stowers Institute.
James and Virginia Stowers founded American Century in 1958 and proceeded to build a multibillion fortune. They started with two funds; today the company has 113, as well as 1,300 employees in four offices on three continents.
After becoming hugely successful, the couple decided to give away most of the money. They affixed their names to the Giving Pledge, in which some of the world’s wealthiest families have promised to give away 99% of their wealth during their lifetime or upon death. Jim Stowers died in 2014 at the age of 90.
He had survived prostate cancer while Virginia had survived breast cancer. They decided they wanted to endow a medical research facility to draw top-rated scientists who would not have to worry about fund-raising, as most nonprofits do.
Aside from giving $500 million to start the institute, Jim and Virginia Stowers gave to it their shares of American Century. The IRS allows a medical research institute to own up to 100% of a for-profit company while a family foundation can own only 20%.