Biography Philanthropists

Hansjörg Wyss

Hansjörg Wyss
Hansjörg Wyss

Born 19 September 1935 (age 83)
Bern, Switzerland
Residence Wilson, Wyoming, U.S.
Alma mater Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich[1]
Harvard Business School
Occupation Former CEO of Synthes
Chairman of The Wyss Foundation and The HJW Foundation
Net worth $5.6 billion
(May 2017)[2]
Children Amy Wyss

Hansjörg Wyss (born 19 September 1935) is a Swiss entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist. He is the founder and was president, then chairman of Synthes USA, until its sale in 2012. Wyss, who lives in Wyoming, has supported philanthropic causes relating to environmental protection, social justice and science. His contributions led to the establishment of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University in 2009 and he created the Wyss Foundation, which aims to conserve natural environments, including public lands in the Western United StatesAfrica, and South America. As of 2017, Wyss has a net worth of US$5.6 billion, according to Forbes.[2][3]

Early life and career[edit]

Wyss was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1935. His father sold mechanical calculators and his mother was a homemaker. He was raised in an apartment with two sisters.[4] After receiving a master’s degree in Civil and Structural Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich in 1959,[1] Wyss earned an MBA from the Harvard University Graduate School of Business in 1965. Following that, he worked in various positions in the textile industry, including plant engineer and project manager for Chrysler in Pakistan, Turkey, and the Philippines.[1][5]

Wyss also worked in the steel industry in Brussels, Belgium.[1] During his time working in that industry, Wyss ran a side business selling airplanes. Through one sale, he met a surgeon who had co-founded Swiss medical device manufacturer Synthes.[6] After that meeting, Wyss spent two years learning about the medical device industry. He founded and became president of Synthes USA in 1977.[5]

Synthes USA[edit]

In 1977, Wyss founded and became president of Synthes USA,[5][7] the U.S. division of Switzerland-based Synthes medical device manufacturer making internal screws and plates for broken bones.[6] In an early initiative, Wyss opened a Synthes USA manufacturing plant in Colorado.[5] Prior to that, another Switzerland company manufactured Synthes’ devices and exported them to the U.S.[5] Under Wyss’ control, the U.S. division expanded its sales team and trained surgeons how to use its products.[5] Wyss served as Synthes’ worldwide CEO and chairman until his resignation as CEO in 2007.[1] He maintained his post as company chairman until Johnson & Johnson acquired Synthes in 2012.[8][9] During his tenure, Wyss said discussions of new products made up one-third of board meetings.[5] A manager assigned to the Norian project testified before a grand jury that “for somebody who is at his level and his level of success, I would say he [Wyss] has a surprising amount of contact with what’s going on.” Staff recalled meetings in which he intensively probed their projects.[10]

In 2009, top executives at Synthes were indicted by U.S. Attorneys for Eastern Pennsylvania for using an untested calcium-phosphate-based bone cement on human patients without the authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which resulted in the deaths of three people.[11] Wyss was not indicted but four of Synthes’ top executives were convicted and sentenced to prison terms.[10]

In 2012 Wyss sold the company for $21.3 billion in cash and stock to Johnson & Johnson.[3]


According to Forbes, Wyss is “among the most philanthropic people in the world”.[2] Between 2004 and 2008, Businessweek estimated that Wyss personally donated nearly USD$277 million.[6] His giving has increased since the sale of Synthes in 2012 and in 2013 he signed The Giving Pledge, agreeing to give away the majority of his fortune.[2][12] The assets of his charitable foundations equal nearly $2 billion.[2]

His primary philanthropic causes are the environmentsocial justice,[12] and science,[6] but he frequently contributes to historic projects and European museums.[1][2] The Wyss Foundation, a charitable organization he founded, has awarded grants for environmental protection as well as to progressive policy organizations, including the Center for Budget and Policy PrioritiesHealth Leads, and the Constitutional Accountability Center.[13]

Environmental protection[edit]

As of 2017, Wyss and the Wyss Foundation have donated more than $350 million to environmental protection, including conservation of national forests and other public lands in the Western United States.[14]

Wyss has stated that he became passionate about the American West and land preservation after visiting the U.S. in 1958 as a student and taking a summer job as a surveyor with the Colorado Highway Department.[4][14][15] In 1998, he created the Wyss Foundation[16] to establish and sponsor informal partnerships between non-governmental organizations and the United States government to place large swathes of land under permanent protection in the American West.[4] By 2006, via the initial efforts of the foundation, almost 4,400,000 acres (18,000 km2) of public land had been labeled as national monuments and national conservation areas.[17] The organization also sponsors The Wyss Scholars Program for graduate-level education in conservation.[1][18]

The Wyss Foundation’s landscape protection strategies have included assisting the purchase of mineral leases from oil and gas companies.[19][20] Other causes the Wyss Foundation supports includes river restorations,[14] ocean conservation in Peru and Canada,[12] anti-poaching efforts in Africa, and environmental journalism.[16][21] In 2017, the organization announced a charitable commitment of $65 million to African Parks, a conservation NGO overseeing ten parks in seven African nations, to help create new protected areas in Africa.[13]

In 2010, Wyss personally gave The Nature Conservancy $35 million to purchase 310,000 acres in Montana as part of one of the largest private conservation purchases in the United States.[14][15]He donated $4.25 million to The Trust for Public Land in 2013 for the purchase of oil and gas leases in Wyoming to prevent development in the Hoback Basin.[2][14] In 2016, Wyss made another donation to the Trust for Public Land that resulted in the expansion of Saguaro National Park in Arizona by 300 acres, including a mile and a half of Rincon Creek.[22]

Wyss is involved with The Wilderness SocietyRails-to-Trails,[17] and serves on the boards of the Southern Utah Wilderness AllianceCenter for American Progress, and the Grand Canyon Trust.[7][14][19] In 2011, Wyss won the Robert Marshall Award from The Wilderness Society for his conservation work.[4]

In January 2015, a conservative U.S. news site The Daily Caller accused John Podesta, who was at the time an advisor on environmental issues to the Obama administration, of an ethics violation for pushing the advocacy agenda of a former employer, because he had previously received $87,000 as a consulting fee for work he did for Wyss’ HJW Foundation in 2013 (that organization was later merged with the Wyss Foundation). It was noted that the Wyss Foundation had previously donated $4 million to the Center for American Progress (CAP), which Podesta founded.[23]According to the High Country News, “nothing ever came of the accusations”.[24]

Support of scientific research[edit]

In 2007, he received the Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award,[5][25] and in fall 2008, it was announced that Wyss donated the largest single endowment from one source in Harvard’s history when he gave $125 million to found a multidisciplinary institute, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.[3][26][27]

In 2012-13, he announced the creation of the Campus Biotech and of its Wyss Center for Bio- and Neuro-engineering in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2014, Wyss donated $120 million to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and the University of Zurich for the new Wyss Translational Center Zurich.[28]

Political views[edit]

In 2015, Wyss publicly declared himself to be in favour of higher inheritance taxes (estate/death duty taxes) for the wealthy in Switzerland.[29]

There has been a long-lasting rivalry between billionaire Wyss, who supports left-wing politics, and billionaire conservative Christoph Blocher. Both entered into public debates about the bilateral contracts between Switzerland and the European Union as well as the limitation of immigrants into Switzerland. Wyss, on the one hand, attempted to outline and foster the advantages of openness towards the EU and immigrants while Blocher, on the other hand, sought to highlight and emphasize the independence of Switzerland in those matters.[30]

Personal life[edit]

Wyss is an active hiker, skier and backpacker.[14][15] He is also a hobby pilot.[1] He lives in Wyoming,[31] where he is involved in outdoor education programs and funds local efforts to conserve wildlife habitat and public lands in the Rocky Mountains.[14][32] In 2000, Wyss purchased the 900-acre (3.6 km2) Halter Ranch & Vineyard in western Paso Robles, California.[33] The ranch includes an 1,800 acre wildlife preserve and a 281-acre vineyard producing 13 varietals using methods that are “Sustainability in Practice” certified. The ranch hosts tours and was named “Best Vineyard Experience” by Sunset Magazine in 2015.[34]

As of 2017, Wyss ranks 281 on the Forbes list of billionaires, with an estimated net worth of approximately $5.5 billion.[35][3] He ranks number 235 on the Bloomberg list of billionaires.[36]

Wyss’ daughter Amy also lives in Wyoming.[37]


  1. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h Allison Connolly (20 April 2011). “Wyss May Top Bertarelli as Richest Swiss Man in Synthes Sale” Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  2. Jump up to:a b c d e f g “Hansjoerg Wyss”Forbes. Retrieved 19 May2017.
  3. Jump up to:a b c d Wilkinson, Tara Loader. Switzerland’s second richest man makes big donation to HarvardWealth Bulletin, 8 October 2008; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  4. Jump up to:a b c d Marie-Christine Bonzom (27 October 2011). “Bernese billionaire works to keep West wild”Swissinfo. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  5. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h “Hansjörg Wyss, MBA 1965”alumni.hbs.eduHarvard Business School. 1 January 2007. Retrieved 25 June2015.
  6. Jump up to:a b c d Miriam Hill (6 December 2009). “Legal troubles for local billionaire” Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  7. Jump up to:a b “HBS Receives $25 Million Gift for Doctoral Program”The Harbus. 25 October 2004. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  8. Jump up^ Matthew Herper (27 April 2011). “Synthes Sale Creates $8.7 Billion Man”Forbes. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  9. Jump up^ John George (14 June 2012). “Johnson & Johnson completes $20B takeover of Synthes”Philadelphia Business Journal. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  10. Jump up to:a b “Bad to the Bone – a Medical Horror Story”,, 18 September 2012.
  11. Jump up^ “Three people died in illegal human experiments carried out by John Podesta backer’s firm”,; accessed 21 October 2015.
  12. Jump up to:a b c Tate Williams (4 November 2014). “Wyss, Yet Another Big Philanthropist, Turns to the Oceans”Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  13. Jump up to:a b Tate Williams (1 March 2017). “With Africa’s Wilds Facing Growing Threats, A Billionaire Steps Up”Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  14. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h Phil Taylor (24 May 2015). “‘Quietly philanthropic’ tycoon makes his mark in the West”Environment & Energy Publishing. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  15. Jump up to:a b c Matthew Brown (14 December 2010). “Hansjorg Wyss: Swiss Billionaire Puts $35 Million Toward Conservation In Western Montana”The Huffington Post. Retrieved 9 July2015.
  16. Jump up to:a b Paul M.J. Suchecki (18 March 2015). “Another Billionaire Comes to the Defense of Africa’s Elephants and Rhinos”Inside Philanthropy. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  17. Jump up to:a b Jim Gerry (2006). “Hansjörg Wyss honored for his philanthropy”AO Foundation. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  18. Jump up^ “Island student wins scholarship”Bainbridge Review. 7 March 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  19. Jump up to:a b Jonathan Franklin (16 August 2008). “Save the planet? Buy it”The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  20. Jump up^ Associated Press (12 April 2007). “Trout Unlimited buys Rocky Mountain Front petroleum leases”Billings Gazette. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  21. Jump up^ Marc Gunther (30 January 2015). “Behind one of the Nature Conservancy’s largest ever forest purchases”The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  22. Jump up^ Elizabeth Walton (23 March 2017). “44 acres added to Saguaro National Park east”TucsonNewsNow. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  23. Jump up^ Richard Pollock (29 January 2015). “Obama adviser Podesta caught green-handed in major ethics violation”The Daily Caller. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  24. Jump up^ Elizabeth Shogren (25 May 2015). “John Podesta: Legacy maker”High Country News. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  25. Jump up^ Zobel gets highest alumni award from Harvard Archived5 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine., Philippine Daily Inquirer; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  26. Jump up^ “Alum gives Harvard $125 million”,; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  27. Jump up^ Harvard alum donates record $125M,, 7 October 2008; retrieved 15 October 2008.
  28. Jump up^ André Müller (12 December 2014). “Hansjörg Wyss sponsoring research”Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  29. Jump up^ “Blick: Hansjörg Wyss, der Freund der Erbschaftssteuer”.
  30. Jump up^ “Blick: Hansjörg Wyss und Christoph Blocher – Die Schlacht der alten Milliardäre”.
  31. Jump up^ “#240 Hansjoerg Wyss”Forbes. 6 August 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  32. Jump up^ Jeanne O’Brien (5 January 2011). “Wilderness Medicine Campus Coming to Wyoming” Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  33. Jump up^ Faith Echtermeyer (8 January 2014). “Swiss billionaire merges winemaking, conservation on coast”ocregister.comOrange County Register. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  34. Jump up^ Sally Buffalo (16 September 2016). “At Paso Robles’ Halter Ranch winery, nature and science meet”The Tribune (San Luis Obispo). Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  35. Jump up^ “Hansjoerg Wyss”Forbes. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  36. Jump up^ “Bloomberg Billionaires Index”Bloomberg Business. 7 April 2017. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  37. Jump up^ “#1044 Amy Wyss”Forbes. 18 August 2015. Retrieved 18 August 2015.