Cooperman on philanthropy — and the 4 things the wealthy can do with money

Leon Cooperman, whose foundation Thursday made a $100 million gift to what will now be called the Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, said the donation is part of his long-stated goal.

He wants to give away a majority of his money.

Cooperman, who is worth billions thanks to his time at Goldman Sachs and, now, as the chairman and CEO of Omega Advisors, a New York-based investment advisory firm, said he has been on a mission to give back since 2010.

Then, he and his wife, Toby Cooperman, took the Giving Pledge, a philanthropic initiative started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates that encourages the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to donate a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

Read his impassioned letter to the Giving Pledge here.

“Our basic philosophy is giving back,” he said. “My family discussed it as a unit, and we felt that that is the best thing to do with our money.”

Cooperman, 78, said he has learned over the years that there are only four things to do with wealth.

Here are his thoughts:

  • Spend it yourself: “You can pleasure yourself by buying art, planes, homes, etc. My wife and I have been married for 37 years and we have a similar view. She was an educator for 35 years, working with learning-disabled, neurologically impaired children. She was too busy working to be a consumer. Both of us feel material possessions brings with it aggravation. We don’t deny ourselves anything, we buy what we want, but we don’t want for anything.”
  • Give it to your children: “If you have a lot of money — and I’ve been very fortunate, I started with nothing, and I’ve done very well — you can spoil your kids, because you take away any concept of self-achievement. My two kids are very achieved in their own right (one has an MBA from Wharton, the other a Ph.D.) and they never had money when they were growing up.”
  • Give it to the government: “Frankly, only a fool gives the government money you don’t have to give them. You pay your taxes as a citizen, but you don’t volunteer to give more money than you have to.”
  • Recycle it back into society: “We feel this is the best thing to do with our money. It’s not a new idea, but it’s a good one.”

Cooperman has long been outspoken about recent attacks toward the wealthiest in society. The son of a plumber and the first member of his family to go to college, he holds himself up as an example of what can be.

Cooperman said his philanthropic donations are intended to give others the same chance.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be born in America, in a capitalistic system, and I want to remain on that path to a combination,” he said. “I got what I got through a combination of hard work, lots of luck and good intuition. I live the American dream.”