Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, may be among the richest people on the planet but (at least so far) they’ve stayed away from buying mega yachts, desert islands and other trappings of the ultra rich.
According to a Facebook filing this week, Zuckerberg pulled the trigger on some 60 million shares worth of options at the end of last year, netting a profit of about $3.3 billion. He immediately turned around and sold more than 41 million shares while turning over 18 million, worth almost $1 billion at the time, to his favorite charity, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
After paying capital gains taxes, what might Zuckerberg and Chan do next?
Despite the occasional wild speculation — $90 million for the penthouse of towering New York City skyscraper One57, anyone? — the Zuckerbergs haven’t gone in for much conspicuous consumption.
Facebook charters a jet for the Zuck and he’s not known to have purchased a big boat, fancy cars or a Damien Hirst formaldehyde preserved shark. Zuckerberg, along with other celebrities including Martha Stewart and private equity titan Henry Kravis, reportedly attended the gigantic modern art showcase Art Basel in Miami in December. Works from artists ranging from Pablo Picasso to Andy Warhol as well as Mr. Hirst attracted some 75,000 visitors but there were no reports that Zuck was a buyer.
The Zuckerbergs own two pieces of property in the Bay area. They paid $7 million in 2011 for a beautiful 5,000-square-foot house in the Crescent Park neighborhood of Palo Alto, the same area where Steve Jobs once lived.
The couple did buy four surrounding properties for another $30 million over the next two years, but it wasn’t with the idea of building a huge compound, or even displacing their current neighbors a bit. Rather, the move reportedly was made to thwart a developer who wanted to buy some of the next door houses as tear downs, pitching a mega manse with Zuck’s proximity as a potential perk. After buying the surrounding homes, Zuckerberg rented them back to the residents.
The couple also paid $10 million for a San Francisco house in the Noe Valley neighborhood. It’s undergoing a massive renovation.
And that $90 million penthouse towering 75 floors above Central Park? Seems it went to a group of investors led by hedge fund manager Bill Ackman.
Back in 2010, Zuckerberg promised to give away half or more of his wealth when he signed the Giving Pledge, an effort by fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get the 1% more active in philanthropy.
He also pledged $100 million in 2010 to help the ailing public schools of Newark, New Jersey. About $80 million has been spent so far, according to recent statements by the Foundation for Newark's Future, the nonprofit that oversees the money.
The 36 million shares he’s given to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation over the past two years are a good start on the Giving Pledge. The Zuckerbergs’ focus has remained local since, with $5 million in January going to help build a new health facility in East Palo Alto, aiding a low income area short on healthcare facilities.
Zuckerberg is also listed as a founding donor of Code.org. The amount he donated has not been disclosed. The nonprofit seeks to get more kids learning computer coding, backing “hour of code” events across the country. Other backers include Dropbox founder Drew Houston and Jack Dorsey of Twitter (TWTR) and Square fame.
Charitable efforts that could more directly benefit Facebook, such as the Internet.org project to bring online access to more parts of the globe, have been backed directly through Facebook. The company didn't disclose how much it would spend — along with partners including chipmaker Qualcomm (QCOM) and phone-equipment manufacturer Ericsson (ERIC) — on the effort.
That may be a lesson Zuckerberg learned from Bill Gates, who was criticized in his younger days for making donations that benefited Microsoft. At one point, Gates was also focused on spreading Internet access. But he said he realized Web surfing wasn’t a priority for people dying of malaria without access to clean water, affordable medications and safe healthcare services.
To be sure, not all sources of charitable giving are disclosed. Zuckerberg and Chan could be giving to many other causes anonymously.
Zuckerberg has also joined his fellow Silicon Valley billionaire buddies by investing in emerging companies, sometimes via his school-improvement effort called Startup: Education. Backed with a $100 million donation from Zuckerberg, the effort last year invested in Panorama Education, a Massachusetts-based startup analyzing survey data from teachers, parents and students to advance schools. Yale University and Google’s VC unit have also invested.
In December Zuckerberg’s firm backed EducationSuperhighway, a nonprofit helping to bring faster online connections to schools. The nascent company, which had raised less than $1 million in 2012, is also backed by the Gates Foundation.
Away from education, Zuckerberg invested in a $40 million round of fundraising by Vicarious, a company developing machine-learning software modeled on the human brain. Facebook co-founder — and Zuck Harvard roommate — Dustin Moskovitz was an earlier investor, and other prominent backers include Elon Musk and Ashton Kutcher.
With Zuckerberg’s latest cash out, expect more announcements similar to the Vicarious one. Just don’t expect him to commission his own submarine.