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The Philanthropy Roundtable is pleased to announce the selection of Russell L. Carson as the 2019 recipient of the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership. Honoring the ideals and principles that guided Mr. Simon’s giving, the Simon Prize personifies the ideals of personal responsibility, resourcefulness, volunteerism, scholarship, individual freedom, faith in God, and helping people to help themselves.

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Carson attended a local public high school before earning a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree from Columbia Business School. When he arrived in New York, he assumed he would stay just long enough to finish his master’s degree, get married, and start a career before heading back to the Midwest. More than fifty years later, he’s still in New York, but now as a successful private-equity investor and active philanthropist. 

After graduating with an MBA without a definite career plan, Carson credits Columbia for “landing him one of the best jobs he could ever have hoped for.” He was hired by Citibank as the second employee of a fast-growing area of investing called venture capital. He joined at a time when there were fewer than 30 venture capital firms, while today there are over 3,000 worldwide with more than $3 trillion under management. Carson stayed with Citibank for 11 years, serving the last four as the division’s CEO. He never forgot how valuable his early mentors were and payed that gift forward throughout his career by mentoring others. 

When Carson and his partners founded Welsh, Carson, Anderson, and Stowe in 1978, they made a marked shift from investing in startups to buying growth businesses and partnering with outstanding management teams to build value. Since its founding, WCAS has grown to approximately $25 billion in capital and has investments in over 250 companies.

Once he and his partners were confident their firm would be successful, Carson turned to his “top advisor,” his father, for guidance on how he should give back, and what his level of engagement should be. When he turned 50, he decided to direct his philanthropic efforts toward organizations that would directly benefit his home of New York City. With his wife Judy and two children, he founded The Carson Family Charitable Trust, agreeing to only give as long as they are alive with an ultimate end date of 2050. The decision to spend down by 2050 comes from Carson’s first-hand knowledge that “a dollar spent today is more valuable than a dollar spent ten years from now,” as well as a reflection of how essential personal engagement is to the family.

Education ranks highest in Carson’s giving priorities, followed by healthcare, medical research, poverty, culture, and quality of life. The Carsons, driven by a strong passion for strengthening the educational outcomes for struggling low-income students, were early adopters of the charter school movement and supported some of the first to open in New York City. At the same time, Carson and his family began supporting Catholic schools as well. He helped to raise a $100 million endowment, and created the Endowment for Inner-City Education. In 2010, the endowment merged with the Patrons Program, the organization that originally led Carson and his wife to support inner-city Catholic education, to become the Partnership for Inner-City Education. Also referred to as Partnership Schools, this organization’s trailblazing school management model of academic excellence for students in the South Bronx and Harlem is what he considers his most significant achievement. 

When asked how he believes philanthropy can help economically depressed parts of the country thrive, he answered, “One way is education. It’s the great equalizer. With education and with knowledge comes the ability for communities to revive themselves. If you can create an educated workforce anywhere in the country, business will flock to it.”

In addition to his extraordinary generosity to improving education, Carson lends philanthropic leadership through various roles at some of New York’s finest institutions. He is chairman emeritus of The Rockefeller University; co-chairman at the New York Genome Center; a former vice chairman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee at New York-Presbyterian Hospital System; co-chairman of the Nominating and Governance Committee of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum; chairman emeritus of Columbia Business School; and trustee emeritus of Dartmouth College.

The William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership includes a $200,000 award which Carson will donate to the Partnership for Inner-City Education. More information about the prize and a full list of previous winners can be found here.

Carson will be celebrated on Thursday, October 24 during a special lunch in Carlsbad, California at The Philanthropy Roundtable’s 2019 Annual Meeting.

Read more about Carson in an interview that ran in the Winter 2018 issue of Philanthropy magazine!