A generous man whose heart was in the American West

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Wyoming businessman Foster Friess was well known for his innovative approach to philanthropy.

He built a life that embodied the American dream. He started his investment business with a few hundred dollars, made a fortune and gave away much of it during his lifetime.

He was fascinated by cowboys and the American West. When he moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 1992, he took on a Western look. He usually wore a cowboy hat in public, which made him stand out wherever he went.

Foster had a reputation as a very kind, humble, and generous person. For him, philanthropy wasn’t just about writing big checks to charities. He inspired others and served as a good role model for giving.

From the start of his entrepreneurial career until the day he passed away at the age of 81 last year, he devoted much of his time and energy to helping others.

Foster, a born-again Christian, believed that “we are only stewards, not owners, of what God has given us”.

When people criticized him for being too generous, Foster replied, “It’s the Lord’s money, and if it was mine, they wouldn’t get a dead penny.

“That’s been our philosophy since we really started giving,” Lynn Friess, his wife of 58 years, told The Epoch Times.

Over the years, the couple have dedicated more than $500 million to charitable causes.

Lynn Friess speaks during an interview in Jackson, Wyoming, Aug. 9, 2022. (The Epoch Times)

Lynn is now continuing the work she and Foster began many years ago. In an interview at Foster’s office in a two-story log building in Jackson, Lynn discussed their early days in the business and how they nurtured a passion for giving.

Humble beginnings

Foster grew up in Rice Lake, a small town in northern Wisconsin. He was a first-generation college graduate. He earned a degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin, where he met Lynn, who was originally from farming country in upstate New York.

Lynn and Foster both had humble beginnings. They founded their investment management firm, Friess Associates, with just $800 in 1974.

Success was slow at first, according to Lynn. “It was a lot of work.”

She remembers Foster’s first office space, a long rectangular room with just a glass door and no windows in Wilmington, Delaware.

“He called one day and said, ‘I think I need a window behind me. … Can you make some drapes so it looks like there’s a window behind me? And I said yes, I can,” she recalls with a smile.

Foster came home one day with the good news that they had secured their first million dollar account, which marked a turning point in their lives.

“That’s how it started. And it was all really word of mouth. He did no advertising. And he liked stocks. He was obsessed with stocks,” Lynn said.

Epoch Times Photo
Lynn Friess (L) and businessman Foster Friess attend Muhammad Ali’s Celebrity Fight Night XXI on March 28, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Celebrity Fight Night)

Foster quickly became a successful growth stock picker. He has been dubbed one of the “great investors of the century” for his highly successful Brandywine fund. And Forbes magazine ranked him among the top 10 fund managers of his generation, alongside Warren Buffet, Peter Lynch and John Templeton.

Ten years after its launch, the Brandywine Fund has grown from an initial investment of $100,000 to a $4.2 billion fund in 1995 with more than 30,000 satisfied shareholders.

Foster had a unique approach to investing. He was constantly on the lookout for companies that were innovative and had a proven track record of profit growth.

He would only put money into individual stocks. And he cared more about the company than how the price of a stock moved.

“We try to think of ourselves as businessmen buying businesses,” he said in a interview with author Peter J. Tanous for his 1997 book “The investment gurus.”

As part of his investment strategy, he also had a disciplined approach to selling stocks, which he called the “pigs in a dip” theory. In this way, he avoided the risk of falling in love with the companies in which he invested, a common problem for many stock market investors.

“Remember, I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. If you watch the pigs, you will notice that when a pig approaches a group at the waterer, it has to push a weaker or less hungry one out of the way to get in,” he said. Explain in another interview in 1999. “The same survival philosophy of the fittest philosophy applies to stronger actions replacing weaker ones.”

This way, he usually sold a stock when he wanted to buy a better one. This strategy has allowed him “to have the most dynamic companies in his portfolio” and to generate substantial returns.

Foster often said that managing billions of dollars was not a one-person job and depended heavily on his staff. He believed he had a gift from God to choose the right people.

“There was a company philosophy: it was God first, then family, then work,” Lynn added.

He moved his business and family to Jackson in 1992. And in 2001, he sold a majority stake in the business to devote more time to philanthropic work.

Epoch Times Photo
Foster Friess speaks onstage at Celebrity Fight Night XXV on March 23, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Celebrity Fight Night)

Philanthropy

Foster’s success in business allowed him to support many charities, causes, and political candidates who shared his values.

He was often among the first philanthropists to respond to natural disasters and his efforts spanned the globe. He and Lynn supported relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Sri Lanka tsunami, and the Haiti earthquake.

Foster traveled to disaster areas on numerous occasions to help victims and identify the best relief efforts. He also sponsored matching grant programs to encourage others to contribute.

From helping families with disabled children in Wyoming to supporting Christians fighting on the front lines against ISIS, Foster and Lynn have engaged in a wide range of humanitarian activities.

Foster was also well known for his memorable birthday parties. On his 70th birthday, he asked each guest to pick their favorite charity. Lynn and Foster donated $70,000 to each of the nominated organizations, contributing nearly $7.7 million in total.

He also has surprised 400 close friends with a check for $100,000 at Christmas 2020 and asked them to donate the money to a charity of their choice.

Foster, according to Lynn, was an unusual person who touched the lives of countless people in so many ways.

After his passing, Lynn said he received a heartfelt letter from a young man, in which he expressed his gratitude for Foster’s influence on his life.

This young man crossed paths with Foster in Pine Valley, considered the mecca of golf in the United States, according to Lynn.

Foster’s caddy was this “young man, who over the course of a weekend told him that he had just finished his freshman year at Pennsylvania College, but his father and mother had sat him down and had him said there was no money for the next year,” Lynn said.

Foster, touched by the story of this young man, offered to pay his school fees. He did, however, invite him to a challenge for repayment. According to Lynn, he told the young man, “All I ask of you is to read one paragraph of the Bible a day. That’s it.”

And he accepted. He finished his studies and then found a job. In the letter he wrote to Lynn, he said he continued his daily Bible study routine thanks to Foster.

Although they never met him, his parents also wrote “magnificent tributes” to Foster, Lynn said, because of what he had done for their son.

Foster was well known for his unwavering optimism and his ability to uplift people.

“That’s how he was,” added Lynn. “He was amazing. Larger than life.”

Passion for the American West

Foster and Lynn fell in love with the American West, its people, architecture and wildlife after moving to Wyoming.

“I remember once when I was stuck on a road in Grand Teton National Park. And that was back in the elk slab days,” Lynn recalls.

Everyone rolled down their windows to “listen to the harmonies of the different elk calls,” she said. “It was a memory I will never forget.”

She believes the cowboy codes of the West represent virtues that all Americans can embrace today. These codes centered on kindness, fair play, loyalty and respect for the land.

“Foster had done some handshake stuff. You probably wouldn’t see this on the East Coast. And the people here are friendly. They’re not pretentious,” Lynn said.

Epoch Times Photo
Businessman and philanthropist Foster Friess, during his 2018 GOP gubernatorial campaign. (Courtesy of Foster’s Outriders)

Foster, who was a major donor to Republican candidates and causes, ran for governor of Wyoming in 2018. He invested in The Daily Caller, a website founded by TV host and political commentator Tucker Carlson. He also supported the youth conservative group Turning Point USA.

Foster has received numerous awards, including the Horatio Alger Award and the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award.

In 2018, Foster founded “Foster’s Outriders”, an organization whose mission is “to help keep America on track”, similar to the outriders’ role in keeping the herd on track.

Initially, the organization was involved in a variety of political activities, according to Lynn. It now operates as a charity, primarily providing scholarships for those wishing to attend trade schools.

More than a year has passed since the death of Foster, “the original trailblazer,” but his philanthropic legacy continues to inspire his family and friends.

Foster’s 15 grandchildren began to pursue her mission, Lynn says, through a program where they learn about nonprofits and get involved in charitable giving. Three of the oldest grandchildren have already started participating, she noted.

“My guy is just living. He really lives. He was a good soul.

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