Never heard of Kamehameha Schools? Its $6 billion in assets makes
it one of the largest foundations in the United States. Princess
Bernice Pauahi Bishop was the last direct descendant of the royal
Kamehameha family. A year before she died in 1884 Princess Pauahi
wrote Article Thirteen of her will. She directed the trustees
of her estate "
to erect and maintain in the Hawaiian
Islands two schools, each for boarding and day scholars, one
for the boys and one for the girls, to be known as, and called
the Kamehameha Schools" (named after her great-grandfather
Kamehameha I). Where did the $6 billion in assets come from?
Princess Pauahi inherited a total of 375,000 acres of land from
her parents, aunt and cousin. Over the years some of it has been
given away, sold or condemned but, over 366,000 acres remain---making
Kamehameha Schools far and away the largest private property
owner in the state of Hawaii. Matter of fact, many of the hotels
and large shopping centers in Hawaii are built on land still
owned by Kamehameha Schools. The revenue generated from its real
estate operations (over $150 million) is used to support the
various schools it operates.
Offices for Kamehameha Schools lie near the fringe of downtown
Honolulu in a blah-looking concrete slab of a building. Built
in 1979, the four-story structure is owned and occupied by Kamehameha
Schools. Entering the building I'm directed by a security guard
to the main reception on the second floor. After checking in
with the receptionist I take a seat on one of the six black &
white floral designed chairs. The reception/waiting area is small
but nicely furnished. I count to two plants (real) and two floral
displays (real). Historical photos hang on one wall and nearby
there's a large glass display case filled with various nik-naks
such as gifts from former students and artists.
The accommodating Coleen Kaanehe, Senior Executive Secretary
to CEO Dee Jay Mailer, answers my questions. Almost 300 people
work in the building. As in most downtowns parking is at a premium.
So, employees partake in a lottery to see who gets to park in
the adjacent foundation-owned parking garage-though they still
have to pay a parking fee. Those who commute to work via bicycle
enjoy covered parking. Smoking isn't allowed in the building,
meeting rooms are numbered and there's no employee cafeteria.
However, there's a break room with microwave and lots of eating
places located within a few blocks. It's a two minute drive to
the nearest freeway and 15 minutes to the airport.
CEO Mailer occupies a middle office on the second floor. There's
a television, one plant (real), a quilt, yearbooks, a picture
of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop and, a handful of kids drawings
on a wall. What's the view out the window? An unexciting view
of the adjacent parking structure. Nearby is the boardroom and
as I expected there's a picture of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.
The oval-shape boardroom table (seating 14) is a real beauty.
Why? It's made out of Koa, a dark and rich wood indigenous to
How does my visit
to Kamehameha Schools (Grade: A) compare to other foundations
visited? Read on.
For many, many years the Ford Foundation (headquartered in New
York City with $11 billion in assets) cornered bragging rights
to being the biggest foundation in the United States. My repeated
attempts to visit were a total disaster as I was treated with
disdain by the arrogant, rude, unhelpful staff. (Grade F-). The
Ford Foundation has now been downgraded to a distant second on
the list of biggest foundations thanks to the establishment of
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($28.8 billion in assets)
A great time was had visiting the $3.2 billion in assets Rockefeller
Foundation headquartered in New York City. (Grade A).
I was visiting Kmart in Troy, Michigan and was intrigued to see
a full-on farm located directly across the street from Kmart's
huge modern headquarters. It turned out to be the headquarters
for the $2.7 billion in assets Kresge Foundation. I walked in
unannounced and received a terrific reception. (Grade A).
I've pasted below
the stories on my visits to the Ford, Rockefeller and Kresge
The Rockefeller Foundation
With assets over $6 billion, the Ford Foundation is the largest
foundation in the United States. Rockefeller Foundation, with
$2 billion in assets, makes the top five listing.
The Rockefeller Foundation occupies three and a half floors in
a 47-story, mid-town high-rise near Rockefeller Center. I meet
with Frank Karel, Vice President: Communications and a very nice
guy. I assumed the Foundation would be in Rockefeller Center.
Karel tells me it was before but they moved to avoid a conflict
This is the first foundation I've ever visited so I ask Karel
what exactly IS a foundation? Karel explains it's a business
whose business is to give money away. Karel gives me an enthusiastic
and extensive tour of the place and introduces me to just about
all 149 employees. Karel had passed around the advance material
I sent so I felt like something of a celebrity. It seemed like
everyone wanted to meet "the guy going around the country
on a bike."
Nothing fancy about these offices. The reception area has four
red velvet chairs and a modern leather couch with red trim. The
lobby walls feature pictures of past trustees & presidents.
I recognize two of them-Cyrus Vance and John Foster Dulles. A
small photograph of John D. Rockefeller hangs on a wall near
the receptionist's desk. Curious that. I would have expected
something much bigger (this one's about 8 X 10) or an oil painting
in an ornate frame. After all this is the man who funded the
The Foundation has amassed an extensive international folk art
collection. I see a women's sarong from Indonesia; an 18th century
Water Buffalo head from India carved from wood and covered with
fabric and paper-mache; a saddle blanket from the Navaho tribe
in Arizona; temple doors from a Hindu temple circa 1800; an 18th
century Chinese wedding basket; and 19th century puppets from
Before leaving Karel asks me to promise him one thing. "Sure,
what's that?" I ask. "Give me a call and let me know
how your visit to the Ford Foundation goes." he answers.
In hindsight I think his smile was a bit sly.
The Ford Foundation
Walking into the Ford Foundation atrium is like walking into
a jungle. Built in 1967 the 14-story building with three underground
floors features an impressive 11-story atrium filled with a lush
tropical rain forest.
Off to the side is the reception area. I ask the receptionist
if she can call President Franklin Thomas's secretary. "I'm
not going to call up there and bother them with something like
this", she replies. "Why not", I ask. "They're
busy people and they don't fuss with things of this nature".
"Do you have a phone I could use?" I ask. "No",
she barks. "There's a pay phone down the street".
"You aren't going to help me at all are you?" I ask.
"No", she answers and she goes back to reading her
book. Later, my attempts to reach anyone on the phone or schedule
an appointment meet with the same courtesy and graciousness so
aptly demonstrated by the receptionist. When, as promised, I
report back to Karel at The Rockefeller Foundation, he laughs
and says he tried to warn me.
The Kresge Foundation
How many of you would guess the offices for The Kresge Foundation,
one of the largest foundations in the US, would be in downtown
Troy on a dairy farm in a farmhouse built in 1852? Once a thriving
300-acre dairy farm, the Brooks family farmstead was reduced
to its present three acres when the family sold the rest of the
property in the mid-sixties to commercial developers. The farmhouse,
listed in The National Register of Historic Places, is constructed
of split-faced stone in the Greek Revival architectural style.
Also on-site behind a white picket fence and slew of grand old
trees is a large red barn and two original windmills-one which
continues to pump water for site irrigation. The Kresge Foundation
acquired and relocated to the farm in 1984.
What's amazing or better yet-bizarre about the set-up is the
location. First, right across the street is Kmart's massive chocolate-colored
headquarters. Second, surrounding the farm on both sides and
the rear is a complex of modern glass office buildings and third,
the main thoroughfare in Troy runs right by the place.
This is one of those instances where I just happen to be riding
by, notice the place, and walk in and ask if someone will meet
with me. Phyllis Johnson, Executive Secretary, is more than accommodating.
Not noticeable from the street and connected to the farmhouse
is a well-masked, two-story modern office addition-which is where
most of the 24 employees work. Believe or not, the old two-story
farmhouse contains a modern elevator-though you wouldn't be able
to find it on your own. Why? In order to preserve the building's
historic integrity, it's hidden behind a closet door. Walking
though the closet to reach the elevator I feel like I'm on an
old Get Smart television episode.
The farmhouse contains two conference rooms. One is called the
Mustard room and the other the Beige room because it's the color
of the walls. Victorian-style furnishings fill the rooms and
I guarantee meetings don't last long here. The wood-back chairs
are tiny-like as if they were meant for little kids and, look
very uncomfortable. "Why are the chairs so dinky",
I ask Phyllis. "You have to remember this farmhouse dates
back to the 1850's and back then-people were much smaller",
A small perk: when
the apples on the over 50 apple trees on the property ripen--employees
get to pick 'em.
In 1899, Sebastian
S. Kresge, started the S.S. Kresge Company which is now Kmart
Corporation. Kresge established the Kresge Foundation with an
initial gift of $1.3 million in 1924. His instructions to the
incorporating trustees were set forth in brief terms; the Foundation's
income was to be used "to promote the well-being of mankind".
Since its establishment, The Kresge Foundation has awarded a
cumulative total of 6,474 grants for $960 million. Current assets
are over $1.4 billion.
I find it interesting
that Kmart has nothing what-so-ever to do with running or influencing
the foundation. I'm also told it's just coincidence the two are
located across the street from each other.