Hohn Divorce Settlement Roils Major UK Kids Charity

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December 4, 2014; Reuters

Yes, it’s as the adage says: Hell hath no fury like a hedge fund mogul scorned. In the UK, Chris Hohn’s $8 billion hedge fund had its best year ever, with a phenomenal return of 46.5 percent. His firm, The Children’s Investment Fund Management—an interesting name for a profit-making hedge fund, derived from the $4 billion charity he and his wife Jamie Cooper-Hohn established—doubled its charitable giving in the year, from 365,916 pounds to 674,346 pounds (roughly $1.06 million). However, its contributions to the Hohns’ charity—the Children’s investment Fund Foundation—dropped from 14.3 million pounds to 4.9 million pounds.

Perhaps it was due to the Hohns’ divorce. In the divorce decree, Chris Hohn had to pay Jamie Cooper-Hohn a mere 337 million pounds—over $529 million in U.S. currency. According to Reuters, it was the largest divorce settlement in British history. Although Chris and Jamie jointly founded CIFF, apparently the divorce may have soured Chris on their shared charitable interests.

How did CIFF emerge as their charitable joint venture, and how did Chris sour (somewhat) on it? According to Jamie’s testimony in the divorce case, when they met at a Harvard University dinner party in the 1990s, she asked Chris what he wanted to do with his life. He answered, make a lot of money. She says, “I told him I wouldn’t date him if all he wanted to do was make money,” and Chris convinced Jamie that he also wanted to “make the world a better place.”

While Chris went on to make billions through his hedge fund, Jamie managed the charity. According to her lawyer, Chris Hohn made $5.7 billion in his “working life,” of which $4.3 billion went to the charity. How that pencils out is difficult for an outsider to figure, since Bloomberg reports that CIFF, dedicated to fighting child poverty in developing countries, mostly India and on the African continent, “has in the past received a third of TCI’s 1.5 percent management fee and 0.5 percent of profits over 11 percent.” Chris has been honored by the Queen for his philanthropy and reports that he speaks with Bill Gates about philanthropy “regularly every year.” Jamie, for her part, says the idea for the charity was hers, but Chris says he was moved to help children after he worked in the Philippines and witnessed children eating from trashcans.

In the divorce proceedings, both testified that the foundation was a cause of contention between them. Chris Hohn said his wife was “struggling” in her job at the foundation and was having difficulty with the foundation’s board. Jamie Cooper-Hohn testified that her husband had been “threatening” her about the foundation as their marriage disintegrated. After their relationship dissolved, Chris Hohn testified, “I no longer wanted to give money” to CIFF.

As a result of the hedge fund’s relationship with the foundation, Chris Hohn became the UK’s largest charitable donor. With $4 billion in assets, the foundation can easily survive and go forward without the annual contribution from Hohn’s hedge fund. However, Chris Hohn remains on the board of Jamie Cooper-Hohn’s charity. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for a post-divorce pleasant collaboration in the operations of a large children’s charity.—Rick Cohen