NET WORTH: $3.6 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Drexel Burnham, bonds and securities
FUNDING AREAS: Medical research, education, and Jewish music
OVERVIEW: The once disgraced King of Junk Bonds has found a second career in philanthropy, and he is now known by many as the Man Who Changed Medicine. Milken's approach to accelerating medical research has yielded impressive results in prostate cancer and also become a model for the industry. He strongly supports a number of education initiatives, although this support and most of his other philanthropic efforts really appear to be spearheaded by his younger brother Lowell.
BACKGROUND: Milken grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, did his undergrad at UC Berkeley, and earned an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He started his career in finance as an intern at an investment bank called Drexel Harriman Ripley. Eventually the bank merged to form Drexel Burnham, at which point Milken was running a division focused on low-grade bonds. He was highly successful, sometimes earning as much as a 100% return on his investment portfolio, and helped finance many successful companies and several leveraged buyouts. Some of his tactics were unethical, and a few even ended up being illegal, leading to Milken's firm pleading no contest to six counts of stock parking and stock manipulation. Milken himself pleaded guilty to securities and tax violations. In 1989, he received a lifetime ban from securities trading. He paid more than $1.1 billion in fines and settlements and ended up serving 22 months of what was initially a 10-year sentence.
Even before his run-in with the law, however, Milken was a major contributor to philanthropic causes. In 1982, he and his brother founded the Milken Family Foundation, which initially focused primarily on education. In 1993, Michael was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which provided the impetus for him to found the Prostate Cancer Foundation and has had a strong influence on his philanthropy.
HEALTH: In a 2004 article, Fortune magazine called Milken "The Man Who Changed Medicine" in recognition of his approach to funding and the breakthroughs that were achieved as a result. When Milken discovered he had prostate cancer in 1993, he was in the relatively unique position of being able to use his resources to do something significant about the disease. And indeed, his contributions have been significant. His Prostate Cancer Foundation quickly became the world's largest private sponsor of prostate cancer research, raising more than $200 million in its first decade. The money has been used to raise awareness, spur innovative research, leverage additional resources, attract new people to the field, and bring a number of new drugs to clinical trials. The result? A 25% drop in the per capita death rate, more than four times the decline in overall cancer rates in the same period. "Michael Milken changed the culture of [medical] research," says Andrew von Eschenbach, a former director of the National Cancer Institute. "He created a sense of urgency that focused on results and shortened the timeline. It took a business mindset to shake things up. What he's done is now the model."
More recently, Milken has turned his attention toward melanoma and epilepsy, launching the Melanoma Research Alliance and the Epilepsy Research Awards Program, and created a medical think tank called FasterCures. Its mission is to accelerate the progress of discovery and development of new medical solutions for deadly and debilitating diseases, speeding up the time it takes to bring important new medicines to patients.
As well, in 2014, the Milken Institute and the Milken Family Foundation donated $50 million to establish the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.
EDUCATION: Michael's brother Lowell often seems to take the lead on education. He was the driving force behind the Milkens' first major philanthropic endeavor in 1985, the Milken Educator Awards, and also founded the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement and the for-profit Knowledge Universe, the largest provider of private early childhood education in the country. The Milkens have given away more than $64 million through the Milken Educator Awards, which have been awarded to nearly 2,600 teachers. The Milkens spent another $50 million on TAP, focusing on teacher tools and training.
Another longstanding initiative is the Milken Scholars Program, which to date has provided over 350 high school students with college scholarships, counseling, volunteer opportunities, and preparation for graduate studies. The scholarships, which total about $2.5 million, aren't available to just anyone, though; college counselors in New York City and the Greater Los Angeles area nominate students based on a number of criteria, including academic performance, leadership, community service, and financial hardship. The Milken Family Foundation also has a program called Mike's Math Club, which focuses on inner-city elementary schools and provides a fun and educational math enrichment curriculum.
ARTS AND CULTURE: Again, it was Michael's brother Lowell who spearheaded the largest contribution the Milkens have made to philanthropy in arts and culture, founding the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. It has received more than $20 million from the Milken Family Foundation.
ECONOMIC POLICY: Michael supports economic policy research through his nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, the Milken Institute. His goal is to advance innovative economic and policy solutions that create jobs, widen access to capital, and enhance health. The institute offers research fellowships for the analysis of economic issues and policies. It also hosts conferences and seminars that bring together leaders in finance, business, government, science, and philanthropy.
LOOKING FORWARD: Michael's focus on epilepsy and melanoma is relatively new, at least compared with his support of prostate cancer. So look for increased support for these and other areas that FasterCures determines can be significantly sped up by Michael's resources.