Harris: Lefkofskys join the Giving Pledge

Eric, co-founder of Groupon, and his wife, Liz, commit to give away half their net worth

A few years ago, at the Allen & Co. conference for media moguls in Sun Valley, Idaho, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett asked to sit down with then-Groupon Chairman Eric Lefkofsky and his wife, Liz, to talk about giving away half their wealth.

Liz recalled Buffett wearing a Hawaiian shirt and that it was a simple discussion, sans brochures or slides, among the four of them.

"They walked us through what the Giving Pledge was and how it worked," said Eric, 44. "And since our intention was always to give away the majority of our money, it wasn't a hard sell."

Liz added: "We talked about it for about 30 seconds, then moved on to other things, because there was no convincing that needed to be done."

But the public announcement didn't come until this week, when the veteran tech entrepreneur and his wife joined 121 other pledgers worldwide. They are the second Chicago couple to join the pledge, after Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto and his wife, Rika.

The Lefkofskys said they put off crafting the letter that accompanies the pledge until after they returned from a two-month family vacation to Southeast Asia earlier this year. Then Groupon's board fired its chief executive, Andrew Mason, putting Eric in charge of the online retailer.

Liz, meanwhile, works full time as a director of the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, which the couple formed in 2006, after Eric saw one of his earlier startups, InnerWorkings, go public. After taking two more companies public and having another hit with Mediaocean, a still-privately held advertising technology company, his estimated net worth sits at $1.75 billion, according to Forbes.

The foundation reported a little more than $23.6 million in revenue in 2012, about $15.9 million of which came from Eric and Liz's transfer of about 3.4 million shares of Groupon stock in September 2012, according to the foundation's tax filings.

By the end of that year, the foundation reported its total assets had a fair market value of nearly $14.7 million. And it had given away more than $4.6 million that year, while spending a nominal amount, about $188,000, on operating and administrative expenses.

Liz ran the Printers Row Book Fair in the mid-'90s (before it was bought by the Chicago Tribune) and ran special projects at Gallery 37.

"I've only worked at not-for-profits, and I always thought it would be interesting to be on the other side," Liz said. "That's where I come from. So I don't know anything different. My mom started a foundation from my grandmother's basement when I was 3."

That nonprofit, called the American Brain Tumor Association, launched in 1973. Her older sister, Stephanie Kramer, died of a brain tumor the next year. The organization is among the foundation's grant recipients.

"I was stuffing envelopes for Christmas card sales when I was 8," she said.

The Giving Pledge has no rules or contracts. It's a commitment to give away half of one's net worth in one's lifetime or in one's will.

All the Lefkofskys would reveal about their plans was to say they expect the amount they give away annually to accelerate.

"It's a full-time job for me now," Liz said. "So I spend a lot of my time doing it now, and I just think that will continue for as far as we get in our lifetime."

Pritzker purchase

The Duchossois family has sold a majority stake in one of the four companies it owns outright, Milestone AV Technologies, to billionaire brothers J.B. and Tony Pritzker for an undisclosed sum, the two families announced Wednesday.

The sale of the Minnesota-based maker of TV wall mounts and audio-visual screens is part of a Duchossois family strategy to diversify its holdings.

"The majority of our family assets have been tied up in illiquid operating companies," Craig Duchossois said. "This was an opportunity for us to retain minority ownership in Milestone while effecting a liquidity event to help the family diversify its asset base. … This is all part of the picture we've been working on for the past 18 months."

CHICAGO

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