It’s one thing to get rich, another to stay rich. And it’s something else entirely to safeguard family money for more than five centuries. Founded in 1521 by Jakob Fugger—aka Jakob the Rich—Germany’s Fugger Foundation has endured plague, famine, two world wars, the Internet, and the euro. Today, the organization’s eight charities still dole out alms and maintain churches, while innumerable entities—rival families, countries, entire empires—have fallen. Reached while recovering from a horse-riding accident at Schloss Oberkirchberg, a castle purchased by Jakob, the Countess Maria Elisabeth Thun-Fugger, 66, the foundation’s chair and de facto spokeswoman, shares a few lessons about longevity.
Jakob endowed the foundation with a stake in his business. How rich was he? The Richest Man Who Ever Lived, a new biography by Greg Steinmetz, describes a lender and entrepreneur who strong-armed sovereigns, popes, and other lesser men, amassing a fortune then worth 2 percent of Europe’s gross domestic product.