The Wyss Foundation is a private foundation established in 1998 by Swiss billionaire and former Synthes CEO Hansjorg Wyss, an environmentalist activist and former CEO of the controversial medical device manufacturer Synthes. The private foundation, based in Washington, D.C., states that it is “dedicated to supporting innovative, lasting solutions that improve lives, empower communities, and strengthen connections to the land.” According to the foundation’s 2017 tax forms, it reported total assets of $2.5 billion and $38 million in grants awarded that year.
History and Mission
In 1998, Hansjorg Wyss established the Wyss Foundation to help ensure land conservation in the American West. The foundation states that its mission is “to [support] innovative, lasting solutions that improve lives, empower communities, and strengthen connections to the land.” The foundation highlights a lifetime total of $175 million grants have been awarded to “help local communities, land trusts, and non-profit partners conserve nearly 14 million acres in the West for future generations.”
In 2013, Hansjorg Wyss’ second foundation, the HJW Foundation, was dissolved and merged into the Wyss Foundation, transferring over $283 million in assets.
The Wyss Foundation categorizes its philanthropic investments in three areas: Land, Communities, and Discovery. In the foundation’s 2013 tax returns, over $19 million in grants were awarded.
In 2016, the Wyss Foundation’s more notable gifts included three grants, totaling over $1 million, in support of civic participation; grants were in support of projects aimed at helping local and state governments provide voter registration services and studying why people choose not to vote.
The Wyss Foundation’s IRS Form 990 filing for 2017 is available here.
Board and Key Staff
Hansjorg Wyss is the chairman and principal funder of the Wyss Foundation, providing $35 million to the Foundation in 2017. Wyss made his fortune as the CEO of medical device manufacturer Synthes, which was bought in 2012 by Johnson and Johnson. In 2009, Synthes faced 52 felony counts stemming from allegations that it illegally experimented on patients, three of whom died. The alleged conduct occurred from 2001 to 2004, in which patients were injected with the company’s bone-cement product, Norian, despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s refusal to approve the product. Four high-ranking executives pleaded guilty for the company’s crime of running unauthorized trials and promoting the product for unapproved uses, without conceding that they were involved in the crime. Wyss was not charged.
The Wyss Foundation website does not list staff or board members, but according to the Foundation’s 2013 IRS informational return, the following individuals serve on the board and staff:
- Hansjorg Wyss serves as chairman.
- John Leshy is the foundation’s vice chairman.
- Joseph Fisher serves as treasurer.
- Molly McUsic is the Wyss Foundation president.
- Mary Killingsworth is the foundation’s vice president.
Current staff, including president Molly McUsic and vice chairman John Leshy, previously served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, respectively. Past and current consultants have also been connected to high-level positions of the Obama administration.