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At two memorial ceremonies last weekend, one in Arizona and one in Wyoming, Foster Friess – a multi-millionaire who built his fortune decades ago in Delaware –was remembered for his interest in people, significant support of charitable causes, Christian values and affinity for jokes.
Those values, speakers said, outweighed his mastery of investing, his connection to the conservative political realm and the social views that sometimes got him in trouble.
Among the many in attendance at the service in Wyoming was Brian DiSabatino, the chief executive of Delaware-based EDiS, who packed his bags for Jackson, the Wyoming city where Friess lived after years in Delaware and where he ran an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018.
“If Foster had his way, he’d tell me that it is a waste of time, as he walked away,” DiSabatino wrote about heading to the service in a letter. “But then he’d half turn his head and smirk, only to say, ‘You won’t want to miss it, it’s going to be great!’ That’s the kind of simultaneous serious, self-deprecating, and silly humor he had.”
Friess died surrounded by family in late May in Scottsdale, Arizona, after a bone marrow cancer diagnosis in 2020.
Friess, born in tiny Rice Lake, Wisconsin, entered the investment world in the 1960s after graduating from the University of Wisconsin and serving as an intelligence officer for a guided missile brigade in the Army.
He started his own firm, Friess Associates, in 1974 in Delaware and eventually became a star investment manager. He led Brandywine Funds to market-beating returns over much of the 1980s and 1990s. The company eventually managed $15 billion in assets.
One of his employees in the 90s was Jack Fraser, who is now a managing partner of the Chadds Ford-based Seamark Capital. The two were friends before Fraser joined Friess Associates, where Friess was Fraser’s boss for nearly five years.
“Foster was a super boss, deeply invested in each teammate’s success, and actively engaged in working towards the entire team’s success,” Fraser said.
Friess, Fraser said, was an active mentor to him and others on the team. His mentor style included one-on-one training and organized programs to “transmit the important techniques, skills and orientation to be an effective leader and stock researcher,” Fraser said.
“Foster was never afraid to give his team members all the rope and space they could handle to put their talents into action,” he said, “and when they suffered a reversal, he always encouraged them to ‘stand up and bat again.'”
Friess was great at what he did, Fraser said, because “he applied his considerable intellect in an effective information and perspective gathering research process that included well organized and targeted questions of prospective portfolio companies.”
But while shrewdness in his work helped him build a fortune – one he shared much of through various philanthropic endeavors – it was Friess’ people skills that left an impact.
“When you were with Foster, you saw a man that believed in the dignity of all people,” DiSabatino said. “We’d be at dinner and he’d call out the wait staff and thank them for leaving their families so that we could enjoy a meal.”
“I was fortunate to have had a front row seat to see Foster’s generosity in the hands of his army. They are delivering clean water in Africa and bikes in Indonesia. They are sending at-risk youth to schools in Colorado and repairing lives in natural disasters in Louisiana. They are turning on the lights in places of worship, manning phones for suicidal veterans, and putting smiles on the faces of healthcare workers in Delaware.”
Friess was known to have fun with his employees, too. He took their families on lavish trips to places like the Cayman Islands, Cancun, Bermuda and Disney World.
In 2001, at age 61, Friess sold 51% of Friess Associates to Affiliated Managers Group Inc. for $247 million. That came nearly three decades after he started Friess Associates in a makeshift office in Montchanin, where he used a fruit crate as a chair, according to a 2001 News Journal story, and his wife, Lynn, sewed draperies to hang on the wall to create an illusion of windows.
In just a few years, Friess had a $100,000 income.
“He was in awe,” Lynn said. “He couldn’t believe that a small-town boy from northern Wisconsin had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.”
Friess donated over $500 million to charitable causes over his lifetime, according to his Foster’s Outriders political and philanthropic organization, the Associated Press reported. Those givings included aid to people burdened by natural disasters and others who were less fortunate.
At an infamous 70th birthday celebration in 2010, Foster and Lynn asked guests in their invitations to nominate a worthy charity. A $70,000 check would go to the winning charity.
At the party, a lavish event at the Four Seasons in Teton Village, Wyoming, Foster and Lynn surprised guests by writing $70,000 checks to every nominated charity – a windfall that totaled $7.7 million, according to the news website, WyoFile.
Friess directly gave almost $7 million to hundreds of conservative candidates since the early 1980s, the Associated Press said, citing campaign finance records. He rose to a sort of political fame while supporting former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s presidential run in 2012.
Friess believed in hard work and discipline and opposed socialism and expanding government. He called his own life an American success story. Some of his views stoked controversy.
“These people on the Left — they aren’t necessarily stupid or evil; they’re just very badly informed,” he said in a video that played at the Wyoming service.
Friess launched an unsuccessful bid to become the Republican nominee for governor of Wyoming in 2018.
During the campaign, he made comments critical of gun control and the sexual revolution and boasted of hunting trips with Wayne LaPierre, CEO and executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. He also bemoaned the nation’s “drifting away from the teachings of God and morality” in comments recorded by WyoFile.
Mark Gordon, Wyoming’s GOP state treasurer at the time, won the primary and was elected governor. He, too, sent condolences on Friess’ death.
Speakers at the Wyoming memorial service on June 6 included Tucker Carlson, the Fox News television host, whose website The Daily Caller was aided by an investment from Friess. Carlson described Friess as not only the greatest ambassador for the Christian faith whom he ever met, but also someone who was genuinely interested in others and what they had to say.
“He promoted people in the most relentless way,” said Carlson.
Reporting from Gannett’s Arizona Republic was used in this story.
Contact reporter Jeff Neiburg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.
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