Jeffrey Skoll, Billionaire Philanthropist

Everyone with money or an interest in money is agog over Jeffery Skoll, the current owner of Shenoa Retreat Center just across the Navarro River, about a mile south of downtown Philo on Rays Road. Skoll hit the jackpot when his friend Pierre Omidyar hired him as the first full time employee and president of foundling Ebay and the company proceeded to blast past the pair’s own optimistic business plan expectations. Within a few short years they were both billionaires.

The interest in Skoll stems from his well imaged position as a social/liberal philanthropist giving away millions of dollars each year. His stated dream is to do as much as he can to make the world a better place and to do so by promoting “social entrepreneurship” around the globe.

Robert Redford, a good pal of Skoll’s and sometime visitor to Anderson Valley to pay social calls on his friend in Philo and who is also known for his own philanthropic ventures, recently said, “I have not come across anyone who was so genuinely altruistic about their purpose. I’ve usually come across people that want to do good but they are looking for a (financial) return.”

Not Skoll, he just gives it away. In fact his strategy is to give $25 million a year and spread it among “ingenious risk-takers.” Jeff does so through a foundation that bears his name. “The Skoll Foundation was created by Jeff Skoll in 1999 to pursue his vision of a world where all people, regardless of geography, background or economic status, enjoy and employ the full range of their talents and abilities. The Skoll Foundation’s mission is to advance systemic change to benefit communities around the world by investing in, connecting and celebrating social entrepreneurs.” There are Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, and a Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

Whenever Jeff gives out any money he does so in a ceremony in front of a wall covered with his name in big, bold red letters. The man is becoming a brand unto himself (not to be confused with the brand of snuff).

Incidentally, through a company he founded, Participant Productions, Skoll has bankrolled such liberal oriented films as Syriana, North Country, and Goodnight and Goodluck (the Edward R. Murrow biopic) and just for fun I will tell you at a recent celebrity type gathering in Hollywood, Paris Hilton sidled up and gave Jeff her phone number asking him to give her a call.

Skoll has never been spied at our popular local Burrito van, Moya’s Taco truck in downtown Boonville, but I’m told he dines at times at the upscale Boonville Hotel. Redford, on the other hand, has been known to pull his silver Porsche in front of Maggie Mae’s Ice Cream Shoppe and send his wife in for an ice cream.

For those of you who want to, you can Google Skoll and find out what a great guy he is.

Jeff, as it turns out, didn’t buy just Shenoa — which by the way he is now applying to the County to turn it into a corporate retreat and training center — two years ago he also purchased over 3,000 more acres of surrounding timberland — most likely doing so as an investment.

Three years ago when I first discovered who 92498 Holdings, LLC was, (the name under which Skoll bought Shenoa), Forbes Magazine listed Skoll as being worth $4 billion. These figures were based on “investable assets” so doing a little math with a conservative investment return of 5%, Skoll’s annual income from his money would likely be around $200 million a year or around $4 million a week. Current statements from Fortune Magazine put Skoll’s wealth at $4.69 billion, a figure which actually beats that prediction by $90 million over the three-year period. In two more years, even if he does give $50 million away for social entrepreneurship he’ll be worth over $5 billion.

In Canadian dollars (Skoll’s nationality) he already is worth $5.1 billion which makes him the fourth richest man in that country. This is the same Jeffrey Skoll who might well be financing homes for his faithful servants here in Anderson Valley but is also balking at coughing up his fair share of streambank restoration work necessitated by stream flow disruptions from the new mis-designed bridge that came with his new holdings at Shenoa. The cost here would be less than $500 thou, a mere one-eighth of his weekly income.

David Severn is Editor and Publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, a country weekly in Boonville, California. He can be reached at