20. JOHN PAYIAVLAS
$725 MILLION (TNHE)
FOOD SERVICE INDUSTRY
Married, 2 children
John Payiavlas, 89, is chairman of AVI Foodsystems, the country’s largest family-owned and operated contract food service company, serving prestigious clients in the business, education, healthcare and leisure sectors.
A son of Greek immigrants from Ohio and roots in the island of Chios, Payiavlas grew up in a working-class family with hopes of realizing the American dream. In 1951, Payiavlas was drafted into the United States Army and promptly left for basic training in Fort Riley, Kansas. In 1952, he was deployed to join the UN forces supporting South Korea and later transferred to the Greek Expeditionary Force Battalion. He was one of four Greek-Americans to serve in this Battalion and was awarded the Commander’s Silver Cross of Valour, the highest military decoration of the Greek state. Payiavlas completed his service in 1953 and was honorably discharged as Sergeant First Class.
Payiavlas’ successful journey in food service began when he and two friends opened and operated a local diner, the Village Café, in their small hometown of Warren, OH. In 1956, he married Marisa Tsagaris and four years later he founded AVI after a frequent customer presented him an opportunity to purchase a very small vending company known as Automatic Vendors. His decision to seize the opportunity later resulted in him running a multi-million-dollar corporation. From the beginning, Payiavlas was determined to make his business a success. Insisting on absolutely no shortcuts, he differentiated himself from the competition by providing homemade “from scratch” fresh foods for the refrigerated vending machines he serviced. The company has grown immensely with 6,500 locations in 44 states and serves millions of consumers daily. Their clients include Ohio State University, FedEx, DirecTV, BMV of North America, Xerox, General Electric, Wellesley College, Progressive Insurance, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Verizon, and Xerox.
Intensely private, Payiavlas runs the company as chairman of the board, while his son Anthony is president and CEO and his daughter Patrice (Patsy) Kouvas serves as vice chairman (they have come a long way since they first started at the business by sweeping the floors, preparing sandwiches and assisting in the office). Family values, a strong work ethic and dedication to customer needs continue to permeate through thousands of team members in every facet of the business. As Chairman, Payiavlas has been actively involved while his children lead the organization with the same enthusiasm, commitment, and vision.
Payiavlas and his wife were honored in 2006 with the Cleveland Clinic’s Distinguished Fellow Award. They have supported several of the clinic’s initiatives, including the Heart and Vascular Institute, Taussig Cancer Center, Glickman Urological Institute, and Department of Nutrition Therapy. In April, 2017, the Payiavlas family donated $500,000 to Youngstown (OH) State University for their new sports media center. In 2000, Payivlas was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame of Northeast Ohio's Inside Business Magazine. In October of 2016, the ‘Oxi’ Day Foundation honored Payiavlas with the Jaharis Service Award sponsored by the Jaharis Family. He is a Life-Time Chairman of the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment Fund, an Archon Depoutatos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as a member of AHEPA and other community and business organizations. Payiavlas is also a member of the board of the Friends of St. Nicholas, a not-for-profit organization with the exclusive responsibility for the rebuilding of the St. Nicholas Church and Shrine.
The Payiavlas family, including their two children and six grandchildren, all reside in Warren, OH.
19. JOHN P. CALAMOS, SR.
$791 MILLION (TNHE)
GLOBAL ASSET MANAGEMENT
Illinois Institute of Technology (Economics); Married, 2 children
Breaking the top 20 this year is John P. Calamos, Sr., 80, founder and chairman of Calamos Investments, a global asset management firm.
The son of Greek immigrants, he grew up above his family’s grocery store on Chicago’s west side and attended Chicago public schools. He developed his passion for the stock market as a teenager and began his investment career when his parents entrusted him with the family’s $5,000 nest egg. With this responsibility, Calamos got a taste for the markets but ended up attending the Illinois Institute of Technology on an ROTC scholarship to pursue another passion – architecture. Finding that he had “very little design talent,” Calamos shifted his focus to economics, finance, and philosophy. Interestingly, Calamos has said that economics is more about philosophy than it is about math; “In college I learned that economics is not a math problem. It is economic philosophy: how are we organized as a society? Reading many philosophers from Plato to Socrates and many others, I felt it taught me a great deal about life and gave me a perspective of history going back thousands of years.”
After graduating from college (the first in his family to achieve this great feat), Calamos spent 15 years in service with the United States Air Force five of which were in active duty flying the B-52 bomber and during the Vietnam War as a forward air controller. He later spent about a decade in the USAF Reserves flying the A-37 jet fighter and earned the rank of major.
Throughout his Air Force years, Calamos continued to study books on finance and investing strategies. In 1977, he flexed his confidence and started his own company, taking out a $60,000 second mortgage on his house to help bankroll the endeavor. Calamos ended up taking the company public in 2004 under the NASDAQ ticker CLMS.
In 2016, Calamos stepped down as CEO (and was replaced by another fellow Greek and Chicagoean – John Koudounis) and now serves as the Chairman and Global CIO of the company. The company traces its roots to the 1970s when Calamos used convertible securities, which were little known at the time, to help his clients grow and preserve their wealth. Today, the firm, headquartered in Chicago with additional offices in New York, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Miami, serves clients worldwide, including major corporations, pension funds, endowments, foundations and individuals. The firm also provides wealth management services to high net worth individuals and families.
A recognized expert in risk-managed investing, Calamos has written two books (Investing in Convertible Securities: Your Complete Guide to the Risks and Rewards and Convertible Securities: the Latest Instruments, Portfolio strategies, and Valuation Analysis) and contributes to industry publications. He is interviewed regularly by CNBC, Bloomberg TV and Fox Business Channel.
The factors to which Calamos attributes his success include his Greek heritage, a strong work ethic, and entrepreneurial spirit. Calamos also credits his military service as a key factor in his success, as it solidified his view of the importance of discipline, risk assessment, and teamwork. His entrepreneurial activities extend beyond the financial services sector, with a private real estate arm, Calamos Real Estate LLC.
Calamos, along with his wife, Mae, established the John P. Calamos Foundation, which supports a number of scholarship initiatives in the Greek community. He and Mae also endowed Illinois Institute of Technology’s first endowed chair in philosophy. Since 2012, he has served as chairman of the board of directors of Chicago’s National Hellenic Museum, of which he is a major benefactor. He says of the museum: “we have built a national institution to honor our parents and grandparents, to honor our rich Hellenic history.” Calamos is also a member of the 13-person board, “The Friends of St. Nicholas,” which is overseeing the financing of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center.
Among his many awards, Calamos was honored by the Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology in 2018 and by the Washington ‘Oxi’ Day Foundation with the Michael Jaharis Service Award for his service during the Vietnam War and to the Greek-American community.
During this past year, Calamos was a speaker at the Panhellenic Exporters Association Virtual Forum where he and other distinguished panel members discussed what buyers and investors are looking for as well as at the10th Annual Capital Link CSR Forum on Economy & Society where he expressed his optimism for global equity markets despite the pandemic.
Calamos is married and has two children.
18. GEORGE D. BEHRAKIS
$900 MILLION (MassLive)
Northeastern University; Married, 4 children
George D. Behrakis, now 87, is the son of Greek immigrants. Born on New Year’s Day in 1934, Behrakis was raised in Lowell, MA. Behrakis graduated from Northeastern University in 1957 with a degree in pharmaceuticals. After completing his military service, Behrakis began his career in 1959 at McNeil Laboratories (a division of Johnson & Johnson) where he and his team marketed Tylenol (which eventually became a household name). Thus began Behrakis career as a recognized leader in the pharmaceutical industry.
In 1968, he founded Dooner Laboratories, which developed and manufactured a leading asthma medication, Slophyllin and Slobid. After selling it nine years later, he purchased Muro Pharmaceuticals, which first worked on skin and eye products and later moved on to asthma and immunology products. With Behrakis, as the head, Muro was highly successful, and he sold the company in 1996. He remained on the board for two additional years, retiring in 1998. It was after his retirement that Behrakis began another career – this time in philanthropy.
With the help of Behrakis, Northeastern University and the Medical Center in Boston opened the Behrakis Health Sciences Center (which houses the Northeastern Schools of Health Professions Nursing and Pharmacy) and created the Center for Drug Discovery in 2003. In his hometown of Lowell, Behrakis embarked on another project focusing on the revitalization of the business community through the renovation of the city’s historical buildings.
Behrakis and his wife Margo also established the Behrakis Foundation, a private family foundation in Massachusetts through which they have funded major initiatives including establishing chairs and funding scholarships at various universities and medical centers (for example: Northeastern University, University of Mississippi, Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology, Tufts University, Johns Hopkins University, Bringham and Women’s Hospital and many others).
Behrakis also established and donated the George D. Behrakis Research Lab, a state of the art laboratory for Lung Function Testing, to the Hellenic Cancer Society in 2008. In conjunction with the lab, SmokeFreeGreece, a campaign series of coordinated actions organized by the Research Lab and the Institute of Public Health (American College of Greece), was created to help reduce (and ideally eradicate) smoking in Greece. Almost a decade ago, Behrakis was shocked to see two women passing out free cigarettes to 11 and 12-year-old girls in front of a school in the wealthy Athenian suburb of Kifisia. Behrakis gave a $1.8 million grant in 2010 to the Harvard University School of Public Health to study smoking in Greece. His goal was to reduce smoking among Greece’s youth by 35%. As per a press release published on February 24, 2021, a comparison of three surveys conducted by the Hellenic Statistical Authority in 8500 households in 2009, 2014 and 2019, shows a decrease of daily smokers by 24.5% and occasional smokers by 38.3% Since 2010, Behrakis has donated more funds to publish a self-help guide to quitting, produce school programs, and further study at the academy of Athens on the effects of smoking.
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has also benefited from Behrakis. His relationship with the museum dates back to his high school days, when his uncle, John Zaroulis, took him to see the galleries. Later, Behrakis would host parties at the Museum. He became a member in 1989, a patron in 1996, and an overseer in 1998. Then, one day in 2001, Behrakis showed up for lunch with MFA Director Malcolm Rogers and handed him a sealed envelope. Inside was a check for $2 million to endow Christine Kondoleon’s position as curator of Greek and Roman Art. He has given at least $25 million to the museum since 2006. The museum is home to the George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing, which houses Greek, Roman, and Egyptian galleries.
In 2011, the 50 plus-year-member of AHEPA was honored with the organization’s Archbishop Iakovos Humanitarian Award in Orange, CT. In October 2014, he was honored by The Hellenic Initiative, a non-profit institution focused on supporting Greece through crisis relief, entrepreneurship, and economic development. Like Metropoulos, featured supra, the Hellenic Post issued stamps dedicated to Behrakis for his contribution to enhancing the country’s international presence in the field of philanthropy. In 2018, he was awarded the Leonidian Award during the 70th annual Convention of the Pan-Laconian Federation of the USA and Canada. He is also a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award.
Behrakis, a former president of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lowell, is a member of the Archdiocesan Council’s Executive Committee and an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and is a chairman emeritus of Leadership 100. He is recipient of innumerable awards for his contributions to business, science, the arts, and the Greek Orthodox Church, and sits on the board of trustees of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and is vice chairman emeritus of Northeastern University. He has served on many boards of both public and private companies. He recently joined the Board of Directors of AZTherapies, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company developing therapeutics to extend brain health. In December 2015, Behrakis was given an honorary doctorate from the Medical Faculty of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens for his contributions to science, pharmaceuticals, and medicine, and for his extensive humanitarian endeavors. Extremely moved by the experience, he told TNH in February, 2016 that “you can receive a lot of honors, but when you receive an honor from your own, your family, being first-generation Greek, to receive an honor from Greece is one of the high points of my life.”
Behrakis and his wife Margo have been married for 60 years and have four children and several grandchildren.
17. P. ROY VAGELOS
$900 MILLION (TNHE)
University of Pennsylvania (Chemistry); Married, 4 children
Dr. Pindaros Roy Vagelos, now 91 years old, was born in Rahway, NJ in 1929 – just before the infamous stock market crash. In 1943, about 20 years after Vagelos’ parents had emigrated to the U.S. from Asia Minor, Herodotus and Marianthi bought a restaurant (then known as Estelle’s Luncheonette), where Vagelos and his two sisters worked during their adolescence. According to the Columbia University Magazine, the family ate dinner there six nights a week. Vagelos, described as a “violin-playing, sports-loving math whiz at Rahway High,” worked behind the counter every day after school as a soda jerk, a dishwasher, and as a potato peeler. It was at this restaurant that Vagelos was first introduced to Merck. With the company’s headquarters just a few blocks away, scientists would come have lunch at Estelle’s and speak with the Vagelos family members.
Vagelos earned his bachelor’s degree with honors in 1950 from the University of Pennsylvania. He then went on to earn a medical degree from Columbia University in 1954. After an internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (1954-56), he joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD. At NIH from 1956 to 1966, he served in the National Heart Institute, holding positions in cellular physiology and biochemistry – first as senior surgeon, then as head of Comparative Biochemistry.
In 1966, Vagelos joined the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine as chairman of its Biological Chemistry Department where he founded the division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences. Since then, he has had a long and distinguished career in healthcare, and particularly in pharmaceuticals.
It was in 1975 that Dr. Vagelos left academia to join Merck, which he led with great distinction both as a scientist and as a visionary corporate leader, first as Senior Vice President for Research, and then starting in 1984 as CEO. Merck was very respected under his leadership, having been voted “America’s Most Admired Corporation” in the annual Fortune magazine poll for seven consecutive years. During Vagelos’ tenure there, Merck developed the cholesterol-lowering statins, MEVACOR and ZOCOR. Vagelos is sometimes called the father of ‘pharmacophilanthropy’ for his decision that Merck contribute the drug MECTIZAN for free to treat millions of Africans with river blindness.
After retiring from Merck in 1995 (due to the company’s rule that CEOs retire at age 65), Vagelos was approached by biotech company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Since then, he has served as chairman of the company, which employs more than 9,000 people and according to Forbes had sales of $7.9 billion in 2020. It was this later career move that catapulted Vagelos to billionaire status.
Vagelos served as chairman of the University of Pennsylvania board of trustees from 1994 to 1999. He has funded three of the university's most elite undergraduate programs: the Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences, the Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management, and the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research. His charity work at the University of Pennsylvania includes sponsoring scholarship/study programs as well as the Roy and Diana Vagelos Laboratories. Between 2005 and 2013, the couple contributed $31.6 million to Penn for studies in energy research and the life sciences. In April of 2019, the couple added to that sum by contributing an additional $50 million in order to build a center to connect scientists and engineers who are focused on energy-related solutions. (In an interview with Kathimerini in 2020, Vagelos said that climate change is a much greater problem than the pandemic.) It was the largest gift in the history of the School of Arts and Sciences. In 2020, the couple donated an additional $20 million to be used towards the new $173 million 110,000 square foot state-of-the-art laboratory space which was finally approved a few months ago. Construction is said to commence in March 2022 should be completed by the fall of 2024. As The National Herald reported in May 2016, the Vageloses’ philosophy is simple: “giving back.”
Vagelos is also the founding chairman of Columbia University Medical Center’s board of advisors, and chaired the center’s capital campaign, which passed its target of $1 billion. In 2010 the Vagelos couple contributed the lead gift to Columbia University Medical Center for a new medical and graduate education building. Seven years later, it was announced that Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons would be renamed the Columbia University Roy and Diana Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in recognition of a $250 million gift given by Vagelos to the college. A substantial part of the donation ($150 million) would be used to endow a fund that will help eliminate student loans for medical students who qualify for financial aid. It was the first medical school in the country to adopt a financial aid policy that guarantees debt-free graduation for its students. Altogether, the Vageloses have been responsible for about $450 million in philanthropy to Columbia’s medical school alone.
The author of several books, including an autobiography (“Medicine, Science and Merck”), as well as more than 100 scientific papers, Vagelos was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences in 1972 and to the American Philosophical Society in 1993. He also serves as co-chairman of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center; is a trustee of The Danforth Foundation, Inc.; and a director of PepsiCo, Inc., the Prudential Insurance Company of America, The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the Estee Lauder Companies, Inc.; Vagelos has received honorary degrees from 14 institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Washington Universities. He also currently serves on the boards of the National Math and Science Initiative and The Nature Conservancy. In an interview with Kathimerini, Vagelos joked that he never really retired and likely works just as much now as when he was at Merck.
Vagelos has been married to his wife, Diana (nee Touliatos) for almost 65 years. They visit Lesvos and Kefalonia regularly since they have family on both islands. The couple lives in New Jersey and have four children and several grandchildren.
16. DEAN SPANOS
$1.0 Billion (Celebrity Net Worth)
SPORTS, REAL ESTATE
University of the Pacific (Business Administration), Married, 2 Children
Dean Alexander Spanos, new on our list this year, but not a stranger to most, is the son of the late Alexander Gus Spanos – a dear friend and supporter of the Greek-American community.
Spanos, 70, is now the chairman and owner of the National Football League’s Los Angeles Chargers Franchise, the team his father purchased a majority interest in in 1984.
Born in 1950, Spanos grew up in Stockton, CA. He attended Lincoln High School where he earned varsity letters in football and golf. He then went to the University of the Pacific where he graduated in 1972 with a BA in business administration.
Spanos began working for the San Diego Chargers franchise, working alongside his father. He took over the daily operations from his father in 1994, becoming president and CEO, until he passed those responsibilities to his own sons, John and A.G., in 2015. Spanos took over full ownership of the team after his father’s death in 2018.
After a proposed ballot measure for a hotel tax financed stadium plan in downtown San Diego failed in November 2016 with only 43% approval, the Chargers weighed their option to return to the Los Angeles market (they were originally founded as a Los Angeles based team in 1959 before relocating to San Diego in 1961). In January 2017, Spanos exercised the option to relocate the team to Los Angeles. In 2020, construction was completed on the Chargers' new stadium, SoFi Stadium, which is shared with the Los Angeles Rams. The venue is owned and operated by StadCo LA, LLC., a joint partnership with Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Spanos carries multiple titles. He is a member of the NFL's Management Council Executive Committee (CEC) where he has played an integral role in negotiating the NFL's current labor agreement. He also serves as President of the A.G. Spanos Companies, and along with his brother, Michael, oversees all construction operations nationwide.
As per the Chargers website, the Spanos family has a multi-generation commitment to community involvement, and is recognized as one of the NFL's most philanthropic families and one of California's most active and caring contributors to local causes. Their financial and emotional support for youth, sports, education and the brave men and women in uniform has been a hallmark of their team ownership and legacy.
Spanos has also been a long-time contributor to many important charities and organizations working to improve the lives of children and families, including: the Make-A-Wish Foundation; American Cancer Society; Armed Services YMCA; Rady Children's Hospital; Girl Scouts; Huntington's Disease Society; San Diego Blood Bank; STAR/PAL; Special Olympics of Southern California; San Diego Food Bank; Casa de Amparo; and the Salvation Army. He also led the Chargers to partner with the Susan G. Komen Foundation in San Diego in honor of his wife Susie, who is a breast cancer survivor.
Spanos received the Harold Leventhal Community Service Award and the Ellis Island medal of Honor (16 years after his father received the award). He was inducted into the DeMolay International Alumni Hall of Fame and was presented the Community Champions Award along with his wife from the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum. In 2016, Spanos was ranked number 21 on the USA Today list of 100 most important people in the NFL.He was an honoree at the American Hellenic Council's (AHC) Annual Awards Gala, which recognizes individuals from the Greek-American community.
Most notably, the Spanos Family Foundation has set the standard for donations to the Greek Orthodox community. Their donation of $10 million to the St. Nicholas Church and Shrine was ‘absolutely stunning’ as was accurately described by other prominent individuals in our community. Spanos is also a member of the board of the Friends of St. Nicholas, a not-for-profit organization with the exclusive responsibility for the rebuilding of the St. Nicholas Church and Shrine.
Spanos married his wife Susie in 1977. Even though Spanos moved the Chargers to Los Angeles from San Diego in 2017, he and his wife still maintained their house there until 2020. In June, the 10,000+ square foot mansion was put on the market for $18 million after the family had lived there for more than 20 years. The couple has two sons and two grandsons.
15. PETER NICHOLAS
$1.1 BILLION (MassLive)
Duke University Married, 3 children
Peter Nicholas, now 80, was raised by Greek immigrant parents. His father, who had come as a child from Constantinople, settled in the Munjoy Hill neighborhood in Portland, ME – a Greek community that produced “dozens of immigrant children who grew up to achieve real success.” In a report published by the Partnership for a New American Economy, Nicholas was quoted saying: “These funny looking Greek kids all had embedded in them this ambition to work hard and achieve a better life than what their parents could have ever imagined.” In the same study, Nicholas also said that he was “very aware” of the old country his family came from and how much his parents wanted him to work to take advantage of the many opportunities that America offered.
A graduate of Duke University, Nicholas went on to earn an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School of Business. He served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, resigning his commission in 1966. He is Chairman Emeritus of Duke’s Board of Trustees. In 1996, Nicholas gave $20 million to Duke for its School of the Environment, which was named in his honor. Since then, he and his wife, Virginia (Ginny) Lilly, have made other gifts of tens of millions of dollars to Duke. Ginny is the great-grand daughter of Eli Lilly, founder of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Company, where Nicholas worked prior to founding Boston Scientific, the medical device company.
In 1979, Nicholas co-founded the aforementioned Boston Scientific with scientist John Abele after meeting him at a children’s soccer game. The company started out by making steerable catheters used in less invasive medical procedures. Today, Boston Scientific is a worldwide developer, manufacturer, and marketer of medical devices whose products are used in a range of interventional medical specialties, including interventional radiology, interventional cardiology, peripheral interventions, neuromodulation, neurovascular intervention, electrophysiology, cardiac surgery, vascular surgery, endoscopy, oncology, urology and gynecology. The company went public in 1992 and currently employs 36,000 people across six continents. The company is primarily known for the development of the Taxus Stent, a drug-eluting stent which is used to open clogged arteries. With the full acquisition of Cameron Health in June 2012, the company also became notable for offering a minimally invasive implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) which they call the EMBLEM Subcutaneous Implantable Defibrillator (S-ICD).
In 2016, Nicholas announced that he would step down as Boston Scientific’s chairman, a year ahead of his intended retirement. President & CEO Mike Mahoney, who succeeded Nicholas as Chairman, said this about his predecessor: “These changes represent a major milestone in the history of the company, as Pete’s dedication, passion, and commitment were instrumental in bringing the benefits of interventional medicine to patients in need. Under Pete’s leadership, Boston Scientific has become a leading global healthcare corporation serving 22 million patients each year, and we are deeply indebted for his decades of service and love of the company.”
Today, Nicholas serves as the managing director of Ithaka Partners LLC, a relationship-driven private, alternative asset management firm. The firm invests in and actively advises early-stage companies (especially in the areas of healthcare, technology and the environment) on the development of breakthrough products and services that will improve the well-being of people and the planet. He is also the director and managing partner of Eagles Ketch, another private, alternative asset and subversive capital management firm. Finally, Nicholas has invested in Kate Farms, the supplier of a plant-based liquid meal formula used by hospitals and healthcare providers around the country as a nutritional supplement for patients who cannot process solid foods.
Nicholas is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and vice chair of its Academy Trust, and is a member of the American Academy of Achievement. He is a recipient of the Phoenix Lifetime Achievement Award, signifying distinguished leadership and accomplishment in the medical device industry. He is also a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and serves on several for profit and not for profit boards including CEOs for Fundamental Change in Education and the Boys and Girls Club of Boston.
14. GEORGE YANCOPOULOS
$1.1 Billion (Forbes)
Columbia University; 4 children
What a year it’s been for Dr. George Yancopoulos. As early as February 7, 2020, the U.S. announced that it would work with Regeneron, where Yancopoulos serves as the President and Chief Scientific Officer, to develop an effective treatment for the new coronavirus strain. By March, Dr. Yancopoulos, in an exclusive interview with TNH, said that Regeneron was working on two approaches that could change the course of the pandemic and save a lot of lives. In May, the Hellenic Initiative launched a Digital Speakers Series with Dr. Yancopoulos to talk about the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. By June, Regeneron had announced that its first U.S. clinical trial of an antibody cocktail for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 was underway. One month later, Regeneron announced that it had been awarded a $450 million contract by the U.S. government to manufacture and supply REGN-COV2 (its investigational double antibody cocktail). And on September 29, Regeneron announced the first data from a descriptive analysis of a seamless Phase 1/2/3 trial of its investigational antibody cocktail REGN-COV2 showing it reduced viral load and the time to alleviate symptoms in non-hospitalized patients with COVID-19. REGN-COV2 also showed positive trends in reducing medical visits. The ongoing, randomized, double-blind trial measures the effect of adding REGN-COV2 to usual standard-of-care, compared to adding placebo to standard-of-care. When President Trump contracted the virus, he was given a high dose of Regeneron’s antibody cocktail. No one has had an easy year, but when we look at the amount of work and pressure that Dr. Yancopoulos has had to endure over the past 12 months, our lives may seem a bit easier.
Dr. Yancopoulos, 62, joined Regeneron Laboratories in 1989 as its Founding Scientist. Born and raised in New York, Yancopoulos hails from Kastoria. His grandfather, George Danis Yancopoulos was born in Kastoria before it was liberated from the Turks.“He escaped to Austria…taught himself German somehow, and remarkably got a degree in electrical engineering,” Yancopoulos says about his grandfather. His grandfather eventually returned to Greece and with his business partners built many of the first electrical power plants there.
Dr. Yancopoulos’ father eventually emigrated to America and pushed his children to get high paying jobs. As Yancopoulos became more interested in the sciences, his father started getting worried that he would become a scientist – a career he feared would not afford his son a good salary. However, when Yancopoulos was 16 years-old, his father gave him an article from The National Herald (he didn’t read the American papers, just the Greek one, Yancopoulos once told us) which was about a certain Dr. P. Roy Vagelos who was leaving Washington University to join Merck as head of Research and Development. Yancopoulos remembers his father saying: “If you are going to become a scientist, at least become like Roy Vagelos,” and added “we Greeks did not have many heroes growing up, but he gave me Roy as my role model.”
Yancopoulos went on to earn his MD and PhD degrees from Columbia University. He has authored more than 350 scientific manuscripts, and was the eleventh-most cited scientist in the world in the 1990s. In 1989, Yancopoulos went to Tarrytown, New York where he started working at Regeneron. Yancopoulos helped Regeneron’s worth skyrocket 2,240% between 2011 and 2016. In 2004, he was selected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Along with key members of his team, he is a principal inventor and developer of Regeneron's eight FDA-approved drugs and foundational technologies, including the TRAP technology, VelociGene® and VelocImmune®. Last year, Regeneron announced that the FRA approved EYLEA Injection to treat all stages of diabetic retinopathy – a disease affecting approximately eight million people.
Yancopoulos also developed “the most valuable mouse ever made,” bred to have immune systems that respond just as a human’s would, so that it can be used for testing how the human body might react to various pharmaceuticals and other substances.
His career, featured in Forbes, showed how his scientific ability and humility combined to help him develop drugs for patients with illnesses from asthma to cancer and made the company a force to be reckoned with in its field. “We were a tiny company, but we had the most powerful technology,” he says. “And sometimes that’s what counts,” he told the magazine. “George sees and feels biology in ways very few scientists really can,” said Elias Zerhouni, the President of Global R&D at Sanofi, Regeneron’s partner on most of its drugs. “It is this creative intuition combined with scientific rigor that makes him special in my view.” Yancopoulos defers to his team of scientists and the man who hired him, fellow billionaire Leonard Schleifer, who said his find has “immense talent and genius.”
Yancopoulos works at his science like a scientist, not like a man interested in the money it brings. Nevertheless, in 2017, Yancopoulos took home approximately $270 million, based on calculations of his actual realized stock gains (which was the largest paycheck of any health care executive in 2017). He was the first pharmaceutical research chief to become a billionaire. The money hasn't gone to his head: he does his kids’ laundry and dresses in the worn Oxfords and khakis of an academic scientist, Forbes wrote. In an interview with Westchester Magazine, Yancopoulos’ daughter Nia described her dad: “He has always just been our weird, silly, always-there-for-us dad.” Yancopoulos is uncomfortable discussing his wealth but hopes that the very thought of it, generated by lifesaving drugs, might serve “as an inspiration to kids who (might) otherwise become hedge fund managers.”
13. EDWARD ZANDER
$1.3 Billion (Wallmine)
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Married, 2 children
Edward Zander is the son of Jewish immigrants from Greece and Poland. His father reportedly dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but instead settled for a job as a furrier in order to support his ill parents. Zander’s mother, blind with glaucoma, emigrated from Greece after her entire family was wiped out by Turkish nationalists in 1922.
Zander was given the nickname ‘Fast Eddie’ by his friends largely because of his Brooklyn roots. According to a Boston Globe article, he frequently demonstrated the "hustle of a street kid spoiling for a good fight"; Zander himself remarked, "I'm from New York, so I'm New York fast.”
Zander's first career choice was electrical engineering, which he studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. After graduating in 1968, he moved to Boston to fill a position as an engineer at the defense supply firm Raytheon Company. However, Zander quickly learned that he was, as he described to the Boston Globe in a 2000 interview, a “lousy engineer.” After spending five years with Raytheon he accepted a position as a marketer with Data General Corporation, one of the pioneers of microcomputing. Two years later, he had earned his MBA at Boston University. His time with Data General proved successful, with the company's sales increasing from $7 million in 1973, when he joined the company, to $500 million in 1982.
Zander then went on to become vice president of marketing at Apollo Computerpresident and then eventually worked his way to chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems when he stayed until 2002. During his 15 years at Sun, he grew the company to $18 billion in revenue; established the company as number one in the server market; and built it into the pre-eminent supplier of network software infrastructure with Solaris and Java. In addition, Zander was responsible for developing the "dot in dot com” campaign establishing Sun as a leader in Internet computing.
However, what Zander is probably best known for is being chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Motorola. On January 5, 2004, Zander was selected by the Motorola board of directors to succeed Chris Galvin who retired in September 2003, ending a three generation reign of his family at the head of the electronics giant. During Zander’s four-year tenure at the company, he made the RAZR the best-selling cell phone in history and reshaped Motorola's image worldwide with the popular "Hello Moto" campaign. He sharpened Motorola's edge in technology innovation; delivered 12 consecutive quarters of revenue growth; streamlined the business to increase operating efficiencies worldwide; significantly improved the balance sheet, and acquired and divested businesses to strengthen the company's competitive position. During his tenure, the company doubled its revenue and achieved double digit earnings for the first time in over a decade.
Most recently, Zander has been involved with two startups: GameOn Technologies (a San Francisco based conversational platform) and StoreONE (a storage system company designed for small and enterprise businesses).
Currently, Zander is a director of Seagate Technology, Netezza Corp., and NetSuite, as well as a member of several advisory boards of civic and philanthropic boards. He is also a member of the board of trustees at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a member of the Dean’s advisory Council of the School of Management at Boston University.
In January of last year, Zander and his wife were honored with the Catalyst Award (the Glaucoma Research Foundation’s highest honor) at the Glaucoma 360 Annual Gala for their commitment to advancing medical research.
12. TED LEONSIS
$1.4 BILLION (Forbes)
INTERNET, VENTURE CAPITAL, PROFESSIONAL SPORTS
Georgetown University (American Studies); Married, 2 children
Theodore J. Leonsis, the grandson of Greek immigrants, was born to a family of modest means in Brooklyn, NY and spent his early years there. His family later moved back to his mother’s hometown of Lowell, MA where Leonsis worked as a lawn mower in order to make some money. According to an interview with N-Magazine, Leonsis said that when his guidance counselor evaluated his skill-set, she concluded that he was destined to work in a grocery store. Leonsis has said that all his father aspired for him to be was a grocery store manager.
Leonsis graduated from Lowell High School in 1973 and attended Georgetown University with the financial help of a businessman named Jim Shannon for whom Leonsis had worked for as a lawn mower. After graduating in 1977 (the first in his family to obtain a university education), he moved back to his parents’ home in Lowell.
In 1980, Leonsis started his own company, which grew quickly, and sold it to International Thompson for $60M one year later. Establishing himself as a pioneer of the Internet and new media, Leonsis participated in launches of the Apple MacIntosh, the IBM PC, and the Wang office automation. He has led four businesses that have grown at record rates: he built Wang WP (who developed the first word processor) from a $200 million to a $1 billion company with the largest female management team in the country. He was founder and CEO of Redgate Communications Corporation, considered the first new media marketing company. He built AOL into the first $1 billion interactive services company and the world’s biggest media company, helping to increase its membership from fewer than 800,000 to more than 8 million in a four-year span (1994-97). He retired from AOL in 2006 and currently serves as vice chairman emeritus. It has been said that few people have roots as deep in the computer industry, or as much knowledge and experience of its history and potential.
Leonsis is probably best known for his involvement in our nation’s capital’s sports world. He is the founder, chairman, principal owner and CEO of Monumental Sports and Entertainment (MSE) (formed in 2010), which owns and operates the professional sports teams Washington Capitals (National Hockey League), Washington Wizards (National Basketball Association), Washington Mystics (Women’s National Basketball League) and the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, D.C. (which houses a sportsbook, making it the first pro sports stadium in America with a full-service sports betting operation). The partnership also operates MedStar Capitals Iceplex (the Washington Capitals’ training facility) and the George Mason University EagleBank Arena. MSE also owns Monumental Sports Network, a first-of-its-kind regional sports network for digital, mobile and over-the-top platforms. Additionally, as part of a joint venture with the D.C. Mayor’s Office and Events DC, MSE unveiled a brand-new sports and entertainment facility in Southeast D.C. which opened in the Fall of 2018. The cutting-edge 4,200-seat venue and basketball facility includes a practice facility for the Wizards and serves as the Mystics home court.
Leonsis is also a co-founder and partner at Revolution Growth (a $1 billion set of investment funds) and founder/chairman of SnagFilms, a website that allows online audiences to find, watch and share documentary films. He has produced award-winning documentaries including Nanking, which told the story of the 1937 invasion of Nanking, China by the Japanese army. It premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and won a Peabody Award and an Emmy Award in 2009. Leonsis has also authored a number of books including his most recent, “The Business of Happiness: 6 Secrets to Extraordinary Success in Life and Work.”
Leonsis has been named Washington’s Businessman of the Year, Washingtonian of the Year, one of the 20 most influential people in sports, and one of the top 10 entrepreneurs of the year. He sits on the board of directors of several leading companies ranging from American Express to Groupon and serves on the Board of Governors for the NBA and NHL, as well as on the Executive Committee of the NHL. Through the Leonsis Foundation, his sports teams, the MSE Foundation and his family’s personal giving, Leonsis supports hundreds of charities each year. In 2015 he was named chairman of the board of DC-CAP (District of Columbia College Access Program), which is dedicated to encouraging and enabling DC public high school students to enroll in and graduate from college.
Leonsis and his wife, Lynn, live in Potomac, MD in a 20,000 square foot home that Franklin Roosevelt, and later, Joe Kennedy (the father of President John F. Kennedy), used to rent over the summer. They have a son, Zachary, and a daughter, Elle.
11. JAMES S. CHANOS
$1.5 BILLION (Celebrity Net Worth)
Yale University (Economics & Political Science); 4 children
James S. Chanos, 63, is a second generation Greek-American who grew up in Milwaukee, WI. His father owned a chain of dry cleaning stores in Milwaukee and his mother worked as an office manager at a steel company. Chanos has had many nicknames over the years including: “Wall Street’s most notable bear,” “Darth Vader of Wall Street,” “Catastrophe Capitalist” and “LeBron James of short selling.”
In 1985, he founded Kynikos Associates (in Greek,“kynikos” means cynic) – the world’s largest exclusive short-selling hedge fund – after a Wall Street career as a financial analyst. Today, Chanos serves as president of Kynikos, which has offices in New York and London. The New York office employs 20 people that manage $1.5 billion in assets. He is renowned for predicting – and profiting from – the 2001 Enron Corporation scandal.
Chanos’ speculations catapulted him into billionaire status just a few years ago, where he has remained. Chanos has a long and distinguished history of making shrewd predictions, having identified several financial meltdowns such as Boston Chicken, Conesco, and Tyco International. In 2000, he started investigating Enron. One year later, predicting the company’s financial problems, he became Enron’s short seller. By the time the Enron scandal was public, Kynikos Associates profited greatly. Financial magazine Barron’s mentioned his early prediction of Enron’s fall as “the market call of the decade, if not the past fifty years.”
Chanos has been known to take swipes at the electric car maker, Tesla (and Elon Musk), claiming that the company's equity is “worthless.” However, in an interview with Bloomberg in December of 2020, Chanos seems to have changed his position (slightly) and said that he’s reduced the size of his Tesla short, adding that his position has been ‘painful’ for the 12 months leading up to the interview.
Nevertheless, 2020 has been quite a year for the short seller. Chanos took and closed a short position on Luckin Coffee Inc. (China’s answer to Starbucks). The stock dropped 70% in April after the company disclosed in a securities filing that its chief operating officer had fabricated 2019 sales by about $310 million. In an interview on CNBC, Chanos said, “How many times do investors have to be burned in these companies that are just too good to be true? Growing 40% to 50% a year, with all kinds of odd transactions with affiliates.” A few months later, in June of 2020, Chanos took and closed a short position on Wirecard AG. The stock dropped about 96% during the summer after the company’s auditor disclosed that the company was missing about $2.1 billion. Chanos also took and closed a short position on The Hertz Corporation. Chanos covered his short position prior to the Hertz bankruptcy in May when their shares were down more than 80% for the year.
Chanos appears regularly in the American media giving financial advice and predictions. He has long been considered a “media operator” with a strong relationship with journalists that respect and promote his ideas.
Chanos is a graduate of Yale University, where he studied economics and political science. Organizations he supports include the Washington ‘Oxi’ Day Foundation, the George and Olga Tsunis Center for Hellenic Studies at Stony Brook University, and Faith: An Endowment for Orthodoxy and Hellenism.
He has also been known to be politically active; he served on the finance committee of then-presidential hopeful Joe Biden. In June, when a Financial Times officer asked Chanos about the prospect of higher taxes with a Biden administration, he responded, “I think it’s fair that rates of taxation on capital probably should go up, relative to rates of taxation on earned income. I know that makes me a communist on Wall Street but I’ve always felt that.”
Chanos is the president of the board of trustees of The Browning School, and serves as a trustee at The Nightingale-Bamford School and The New-York Historical Society. Chanos also teaches a course on the history of financial fraud at Yale University. The syllabus stretches back to the 17th century. In an interview with the Financial Times, he said, “we are in the golden age of fraud.”