Nicolas Berggruen (born 10 August 1961) is a philanthropist and investor. A dual American and German citizen, he is the founder and president of Berggruen Holdings, a private investment company and the Berggruen Institute, a think tank that works on addressing governance issues as well as the cultures and philosophies behind political systems. Through the Berggruen Institute he is also a co-founder, with the Huffington Post, of The WorldPost, a media publication dedicated to global issues.
Education and business career
Berggruen was born in Paris, the son of art collector Heinz Berggruen, and actress Bettina Moissi. His father was of German-Jewish descent and his mother a Catholic of German and Italian/Albanian descent. His maternal grandfather was Albanian-Italian actor Aleksandër Moisiu, based in Vienna, and his maternal grandmother, Herta Hambach, was a German actress in Berlin. Berggruen attended the École Alsacienne in Paris and Le Rosey in Switzerland, before completing a baccalauréat in Paris as a candidat libre in 1978. That same year, at the age of 17, he worked as a trainee at London Merchant Securities in London, known today as LMS Capital Plc. He subsequently obtained a Bachelor of Science in Finance and International Business from New York University in 1981. He later worked for the investment company Bass Brothers Enterprises, in its real estate group. Between 1983 and 1987, Berggruen was a Principal at Jacobson and Co.
In New York, he began building his fortune, based on a trust fund worth about $250,000, by buying real estate before moving on to stocks, bonds and a portfolio of private equity and venture funds as well as hedge funds. He founded Berggruen Holdings, Inc. in 1984 to act as investment adviser to a Berggruen family trust that has made over 50 direct investments in businesses since its inception. In 1988, he and Julio Mario Santo Domingo, Jr. co-founded Alpha Investment Management, a hedge fund that was reportedly sold to Safra Bank in 2004. Today, the investments Berggruen oversees through Berggruen Holdings are highly diversified.
The press has often referred to Berggruen as "the homeless billionaire", as at one point he frequently lived in hotels and did not own a home.
Berggruen Governance Center
In 2010, Berggruen founded the Berggruen Institute, a think and action tank through which he aspires to develop and implement more effective systems of governance. Through the institute, he has launched several government reform projects including the 21st Century Council which is focused on global governance challenges, the Council for the Future of Europe, to support work on European integration and the Think Long Committee for California, a bipartisan effort focused on reforming California's system of governance. In 2015, Berggruen announced the launch of the Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center.
The 21st Century Council was formed in 2011 to address gaps in global governance. The group, chaired by Ernesto Zedillo, includes political leaders such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Gerhard Schröder, Gordon Brown, George Yeo, Pascal Lamy, and Zheng Bijian. The council also includes several Nobel laureates and leading thinkers such as Joseph Stiglitz, Michael Spence, Lawrence Summers, and Francis Fukuyama as well as business and technology leaders Eric Schmidt, Jack Dorsey, and Pierre Omidyar among many others.
The Council for the Future of Europe, was formed in 2011. In a statement released by the group in September 2011, the group advocated for a stronger, more integrated Europe suggesting that Europe's economic crisis can only be solved by a political solution. The group, chaired by Mario Monti, includes political leaders and thinkers such as Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder, Felipe González, Doris Leuthard, Jacques Delors, and Robert Mundell.
His project in California, the Think Long Committee for California, also includes members from politics, industry, and labor from both Democrats and Republicans, such as George Schultz, Condoleezza Rice, Willie Brown, Gray Davis, Eric Schmidt, Eli Broad and Laura Tyson. The Think Long Committee was fundamental to the creation and passing of the Ballot Initiative Transparency Act (SB1253) and a top donor to the California State Rainy-Day Fund which passed in 2014.
Berggruen is a co-author (with Nathan Gardels) of a book on political governance: Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century: A Middle Way Between West and East, written with Nathan Gardels (Polity, 2012). The Financial Times named it as one of their "Best Books of 2012".
Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center
In September 2015, Nicolas Berggruen announced the launch of the Berggruen Institute's Philosophy and Culture Center. The Center - dedicated to encouraging new ideas and fresh thinking across culture and disciplines - includes a fellowship program between Chinese and American universities, an ideas contest, and an annual $1 million philosophy prize to be awarded by an international jury. The Center collaborates with several universities and institutions, including the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University, China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy, New York University, USC Dornsife, Hertie School of Governance, Tsinghua University, Peking University, University of Cambridge, Harvard Divinity School, and the Aspen Institute.
The Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center aims to realize its mission via three core initiatives:
- A Global Fellowship Program. Understanding different cultures and ways of life depends on extended exposure to other societies. To this end, the Center sponsors a fellowship program that gives thinkers the opportunity to study, work and live at leading universities in China, the United States, and the United Kingdom. These efforts will result in symposia, video and written materials including articles and books.
- The annual $1 Million Berggruen Philosophy Prize. The prize will reward a living thinker whose ideas have deeply influenced our world. An independent and diverse jury composed of leading thinkers will award the prize. The first prize is expected to be awarded in the fall of 2016.
The Berggruen Ideas Competition will be organized annually to identify and further research ideas that will meaningfully impact the way we think and live. The first competition is expected to take place in the early 2017.
The Berggruen Institute has announced Los Angeles as its permanent home and has begun plans to build its center. The Institute has commissioned architects Herzog de Meuron to design the 'secular monastery.'
Berggruen is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Director on the Board of the Pacific Council on International Policy, a member of Foro Iberoamericano, and a member of the Commission on Global Ethics and Citizenship, chaired by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In 2013 he was appointed by Harvard's Center for European Studies as its first non-resident Senior Fellow, and was named a member of the Brookings International Advisory Council and the NYU President's Global Council. In 2014 he was named a member of the Leadership Council at Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership, a member of Harvard University's Global Advisory Council, as well as a trustee of the Asia Society. He is also a member of the World Economic Forum.
Berggruen is the head of the Board of the Berggruen Museum in Berlin and a member of the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA), the International Councils of the Tate Gallery in London, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He is also a member of the Beyeler Foundation, the International Council of the Serpentine Gallery, and Sotheby's International Advisory Board.
In close cooperation with LACMA, he has been making acquisitions intended for the museum, including artworks by Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley, Charles Ray, Chris Burden, Bruce Nauman, Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Martin Kippenberger, and Thomas Schütte.
Berggruen is interested in architecture and has collaborated on development projects with Richard Meier, Shigeru Ban, and David Adjaye.
Berggruen has committed to give the majority of his wealth through the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Trust and has joined The Giving Pledge - a campaign set up by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage the wealthiest individuals in the world to commit to donate most of their wealth to charitable causes. Berggruen has endowed the Berggruen Institute with $500 Million to further the activities and broaden its global reach.
Through Berggruen Holdings, Berggruen was a primary investor and developer in Newark, New Jersey's Teachers Village. He was also honored by his alma mater, NYU Stern, at the 2016 Haskins Giving Society Award Dinner for his commitment to business and public service.
He has two children, Olympia and Alexander, who were born from one egg-donor and two surrogates. Berggruen's brother, Olivier, is an art historian and curator living in New York. Additionally, he has a half-brother and half-sister: John Berggruen is a successful San Francisco-based gallery owner, and Helen Berggruen is an artist.