An Interview with Richard Driehaus

Updated: Mar 29

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.




Dr. Knight: It is an honor to interview you, as a person who has been so generous to Catholic causes as well as many other aspects of our society. The purpose of this interview is to reflect on what it means to be a philanthropist but before we start that let’s go back to your upbringing.


What laid the foundation in your childhood, adolescence, and college that led to your vocation?


Mr. Driehaus: My Catholic education helped shape who I am. In the early 1950s, my father owned a residential lot in Beverly. He hired an architect to design an aesthetically pleasing Queen Anne-style home. Beverly was the desired community for almost all Irish Catholics living on the Southwest side. I remember when the estimate came in. The house would cost over $50,000! But that didn’t bother me. After all, my father was a successful mechanical engineer at a coal mining equipment company. He held numerous patents, was intelligent, hard-working, and devoted to his family. Certainly, I thought, the cost wouldn’t be an issue. Over the next several weeks, I overheard several discussions at the kitchen table between my mom and my dad where they discussed the feasibility of this house. The realization soon came that my parents couldn’t afford it. I thought my Dad earned a sufficient income to build such a house and recall asking mom what he earned. She said about $10,500 a year. This was not nearly enough to afford our dream home. Our savings were meager. My father had many valuable attributes, but he did not earn enough money because he was in the wrong industry. With the discovery of large oil and gas reserves, the importance of coal and coal mining equipment diminished. His industry entered a state of decline. Having worked in the same industry for 30 years he was not able to apply his skills to other areas. This struggle to adapt to changing circumstances limited his ability to earn a larger income and achieve his goal of building our dream home. I began to think over the words from my early years at grammar school with the School Sisters of Notre Dame: “You are responsible for your actions.” I realized they meant only I could determine my destiny through my efforts. If I wanted to be able to provide a home for my future family, I’d have to assume this responsibility.


However, none of the more conventional professions – doctor, lawyer, or accountant – appealed to me. Nevertheless, I was determined to figure out how to achieve my goals. When I was 13 I was looking through the Chicago Daily American and came across a page with corporate names, numerous columns, and numbers showing lots of fractional changes in small print. I asked my father what were all the quotations about? He told me it was the New York Stock Exchange. Suddenly, I knew, this was the industry for me!

The principles of investing are basic. The successful implementation is the challenge. William Blake summed it up best when he wrote, “Execution is the chariot of genius.” I needed to begin my research. To make decisions using a greater number of resources such as stock fundamentals, technical information, and market movements. I realized that picking stocks is a difficult business. Just being well-educated or a nationally-recognized columnist doesn’t guarantee success. These discoveries formed the foundation upon which I later created my investment business. Throughout the next several years I continued to invest and deepen my knowledge of the stock market.


Dr. Knight: What is your academic life led you to make the choice to go into finance?


Mr. Driehaus: I learned much as a student at DePaul. I transferred from a small junior college. I applied at two schools but remember clearly that DePaul was more organized and welcoming to new applicants. The school also was willing to take all of my 58 junior college credits. DePaul has always been known for its “accepting” and “open” philosophy. I recall how tough it was to land that first job out of school. I was one of the last students graduating from DePaul University with a finance degree to be employed. But, as Molière said, “the greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” I started at $450 a month while the average finance student was offered between $525 and $575. It has been said that “A life isn’t significant except for its impact on other lives.” Many of my DePaul professors, and fellow students had a significant impact on my life.


Professor Muldoon made finance fascinating, regaling us with stories of market speculators of the past and the great fortunes they made. Frederick Miller, a conservative free market thinker, exposed me to the Austrian school of economics. He was convinced there could never be a common currency. Never in a hundred years would it work he said! I wonder what he would think now about the Euro experiment. Then there was Dr. William Hayes in international finance. Talk about caring for his students. He actually called to remind me of the deadline for submitting my master’s thesis. I wrote about “Growth Investing: A New Investment Theory.” The intellectual development I experienced through DePaul University, as both an undergraduate and through the graduate school of business, was an important factor in how my career and life have evolved.


Dr. Knight: You attended Margaret of Scotland on the Southside and have been generous to the school to assist it in continuing, what prompted you to do so?


Mr. Driehaus: My sisters and I attended St. Margaret of Scotland School. My Mother attended to our school needs and my Father earned the money to keep us afloat. We were a lower-middle-class. When the Sister who taught me said: “Take responsibility for your life.” I took that statement very seriously. I started earning money for my family in third grade with selling and buying coins. By eighth grade, by watching my Father, I understood how the stock market worked and the best way to invest. I’ve donated a million dollars to St. Margaret.


I went to St. Ignatius and learned a great deal of Latin which I knew would not assist me in my specific goal. (In speaking with Mr. Driehaus, one can see he understands the Ignatian Examen of Conscience!) I then attended UIC and flunked out. I went to Southeast Junior College where I accrued 58 credits which were all accepted by DePaul University.


Dr. Knight: Your generosity to De Paul University and other universities, as well as other Catholic schools, provided scholarships for students. Why did this way of funding appeal to you?


Mr. Driehaus: I received my undergraduate and master's degree from DePaul University. As I stated above, I learned a great deal studying at DePaul University. I gave credit to some of my professors and realize that their knowledge certainly made a difference in my career. The school offered me an honorary doctorate that I accepted. I also bequeathed to the University over thirty million dollars.


Dr. Knight: On a lighter note, the Driehaus Museum has brought the Gilded Age alive to those who visit downtown Chicago. How did you decide on the theme that is being shown at this time?


Mr. Driehaus: The inaugural exhibition in the Driehaus Museum’s new contemporary art series, “A Tale of Today”, focuses on Yinka Shonibare CBE. He is a British-Nigerian artist who draws on history, politics, and fashion influences to explore and critique our understanding of the past with equal doses of humor, irony, and theatrics playfully woven in. His work reflects the intersection of his English and African heritage and, in his own words, is “about raising questions rather than answering them.” This exhibition features the artist’s earlier work, from photography series to sculpture installations. Presented within the context of one of America’s great Gilded Age mansions, it creates compelling juxtapositions revealing new perspectives on both the art and its setting. The museum recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. In that short time, it has consistently ranked as one of the top 10 things to do in Chicago on Trip Advisor!


Dr. Knight: In deciding on the outpouring of philanthropy that has been part of your life, what were the variables that drove you to continue to live with such unabashed generosity?


Mr. Driehaus: There are three basic things I look for: hard work, adaptability, and direction for the future. Did I mention hard work? I think this is an issue that makes a great deal of difference as a person needs to put their heart and soul in what they determine as worthy of one’s lifeblood. Since I was in third grade and the Sister teaching me said: Take responsibility for your life! I have done just that and continue to do so.


Dr. Knight: Did you ever regret giving to a certain organization and why? Did you ever want the monies returned?


Mr. Driehaus: Mistakes need to be attended to and then have the courage to move on. It is important to take risks but it is even more important to investigate and to study where we want our goal to land. I always investigate the projects I am willing to invest in and then I make sure I pay attention to all the details. Even if it is a gift I investigate all the angles.


Dr. Knight: A person wanting to be more philanthropic should follow in your steps. What would you recommend?


Mr. Driehaus: As I stated previously, a person needs to believe in hard work, be adaptable and have goals worthy of time, effort and talent. I like challenge grants. For every dollar donated by others, I promise to match or double it. You might call it a way of proselytizing. Persuading others to join you in a belief in an organization and its work.

Because I’m in the stock market business, I have to get buy-in from the whole to be successful. You want a large body to buy in so they also feel more a part of it. I don’t see my generosity as a charity. It is more an investment in the future.


Dr. Knight: Your beautiful buildings in downtown Chicago add so much to the architecture of the area. Why did you invest in that area?


Mr. Driehaus: Identifying, encouraging, and celebrating a sense of place has been the guiding force of my philanthropy and much of my free time for more than two decades. Place suggests that a particular spot is like no other; that it is endowed with qualities that make it more than a mere location. Too many places today are devoid of the uniqueness that lends itself to memory because we have failed as a society to thoughtfully preserve the places that we have inherited and to create new ones that resonate emotionally. Much of what has been built during the last fifty years is without specific reference to a particular location’s architectural heritage. Fortunately, a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that a sense of place matters to our emotional and physical well-being.


Dr. Knight: Has your personal life helped or hindered your work in philanthropy? In what way?


Mr. Driehaus: The observations I make in society and the market help my understanding of what is needed in our society. There is art and music and dance that we tend to neglect. Funding landscape design and greening oriented efforts, including a design competition for the garden at Chicago’s Millennium Park, the restoration of the Caldwell Lily Pool in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, and the restoration and programs of the Garfield Park Conservatory are some of the programs I’ve supported. (Certainly, this is in keeping with the Pope’s encyclical on Laudato Si, taking care of the earth). In the U.S. Virgin Islands, I support programs preserving history, cultural heritage, and historic structures as well as economic and educational initiatives. This includes support of the St. Thomas Historical Trust for creation of a preservation plan for Hassel Island and to expand educational programs to teach children about the history and cultural heritage of the island. I have also funded economic opportunity initiatives focused primarily on programs to benefit people living in poverty. One such beneficiary has been Opportunity International, which makes small business microloans to people in small villages in other countries.


Dr. Knight: What else would you like to tell the readers of Profiles in Catholicism regarding philanthropy?


Mr. Driehaus: Mr. Driehaus: I see philanthropy as a form of inquiry; a way of learning about the world. Like investing, it requires strategic thinking, judgment for innovation and tolerance of risk. Failures can be as important as successes. With nearly $200 million in donations to date, and even more planned, my philanthropy is guided by a philosophy that giving back to society makes for a more fulfilling life.


Surround yourself with what you believe is beautiful and share that with others. I have places where my very art is on display for the public to see. I am delighted to share it with others. My philosophy is based on Hard work, discipline adaptability and success over time.


My website is: www.driehaus.com


Dr. Knight: Thank you very much for assisting us in understanding aspects of philanthropy that might help us to follow what this means for our society and the growth of the Catholic Church.

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