William Carey, Investor Who Backed Business Schools, Dies at 81

William Polk Carey
William Polk Carey, founder and chairman of W. P. Carey & Co., died in West Palm Beach, Florida, at age 81, according to a statement from the company. Source: W. P. Carey & Co. via Bloomberg

William Polk Carey, who made a fortune in real-estate finance and donated tens of millions of dollars to improve U.S. business schools, has died. He was 81.

He died yesterday at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, his firm, W.P. Carey & Co., said in a statement. The cause was complications following a heart attack, according to Cheryl Perry, a spokeswoman for the company. A resident of New York City, he was in Florida for the holidays.

The firm founded by Carey in 1973 provides sale-leaseback and other forms of real-estate financing and manages a global investment portfolio of about $11.8 billion, according to its website. Based in New York, it owns almost 1,000 commercial and industrial properties in North America, Europe and Asia, totaling about 120 million square feet, including part of the New York Times Building in Manhattan.

“Bill was unwavering in his devotion to our shareholders, and he was especially proud that we have been able to provide increasing income to them, while providing our tenant companies with the capital that allowed them to grow their business and prosper,” Chief Executive Officer Trevor P. Bond said in the statement.

In 1988, Carey established the W.P. Carey Foundation as the vehicle for his philanthropy. Its major gifts include $50 million in 2002 to Arizona State University, which renamed its business school the W.P. Carey School of Business; $50 million in 2006 to Johns Hopkins University to create the Carey School of Business; and, last April, $30 million to the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, which he hoped would lead to a joint law-business degree offered by Maryland and Johns Hopkins.

Descendent of President

Carey, a descendent of U.S. President James K. Polk, never married and said he wanted to give away most of his fortune.

“I don’t believe in having my family be rich,” he told the New York Times in April. “They don’t need a lot of fancy cars to drive around. My goal is to make the foundation a billion, and then after it’s a billion, I might be old enough to think about passing on.”

The foundation reported about $25 million in assets at the end of 2010. Its trustees said yesterday that Carey had made the foundation the primary beneficiary of his shares in W.P. Carey.

Carey was born on May 11, 1930, in Baltimore, where his grandmother, Anne Galbraith Carey, had founded the Gilman School, the nation’s first country day school, in 1897.

As a student at Princeton University, he earned money selling secondhand refrigerators to classmates, according to a company biography. (Carey told the Times that he “cut too many classes, too many chapels” at Princeton and “resigned before someone could ask me to leave.”) He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1953 from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania.

Auto Business

After serving two years in the U.S. Air Force, he joined his stepfather’s auto dealership in New Jersey, where he learned about lease financing. At 28, he became owner of International Leasing Corp. in Plainfield, New Jersey, a leading dealer of Peugeots and other foreign cars.

After International Leasing was merged in 1964 into Hubbard, Westervelt Mottelay Inc. -- which would be bought in 1968 by Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. -- Carey led the executive committee. He was head of real estate and equipment financing at Loeb, Rhodes & Co. and director of corporate finance at DuPont, Glore Forgan Inc.

In 1973, he formed W.P. Carey with his brother, Francis J. Carey, and brother-in-law, Raymond S. Clark. His brother survives him, as do numerous nieces and nephews, according to his firm.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE