T. Denny Sanford
Denny Sanford was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Dec. 23, 1935. Young Denny developed an early work ethic during his summers, working in his father's clothing distribution company. His mother died of breast cancer when he was 4; and his father died of heart disease at a young age.
Denny attended St. Paul Central High School. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1958 with a degree in psychology, he was recruited by Armstrong Cork Co. as a sales and marketing manager. In 1960, he left Armstrong and formed a manufacturer's representative company, promoting technical construction products through architects and engineers. He subsequently formed a distribution company and, in 1971, acquired a 50-year-old chemical company from Sears, Roebuck. In 1972, he took that company, Contech, Inc., public at $5/share; ten years later, he sold Contech for $35/share. At that point, Denny took a different tack and formed Threshold Ventures, a venture capital company.
In 1986, he purchased United National Bank in Sioux Falls, SD (now First PREMIER Bank), and built it, along with a newly-formed credit card company (Premier BANKCARD), from 80 employees to over 3000 employees. In 2002, Denny co-founded First PREMIER Capital in Minneapolis, engaged in the business of commercial equipment leasing. He remains active in Threshold Ventures and the financial institutions today.
Denny's philanthropic endeavors are profound. In the last four years alone, he has given away over $700 million. His primary interest is in helping sick, disadvantaged, abused and/or neglected children. A long time supporter of the Children's Home Society he has contributed $14 million for the CHS Endowment Fund. In 2001, the Denny Sanford Foundation for charitable giving was formed. Since then, Mr. Sanford has donated $16 million to build the Sanford Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; $20 million to the University of South Dakota for the Sanford School of Medicine and $5 million for the Beacom School of Business; $15 million to the Mayo Clinic for the construction of the T. Denny Sanford Mayo Clinic Pediatric Center; $4 million to the Arizona State University Foundation to establish the Sanford Curriculum and $18 million for the Sanford Education Project; and $6 million to the University of Minnesota for the completion of their new athletic stadium. Four million has been given to the Roundup River Ranch in Vail, Colorado (an affiliation of the Paul Newman Hole In The Wall Gang Camps), with $3 million pledged in matching funds. Similarly, the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota has received $4.5 million, with another $4.5 million promised in matching funds. In 2006, $70 million was pledged to the state of South Dakota for the Sanford Science Center at Homestake Underground Mine in Lead, South Dakota.
In his single largest contribution to date, on February 3, 2007, Mr. Sanford announced a $400 million gift to the Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System, which was used to transform that facility into a state-of-the-art, 146-bed pediatric center that was uniquely designed to resemble a fairy-tale castle, inside and out, in order to appeal to a child's imagination. Officially renamed Sanford Health in recognition of his generosity and vision, the center is also fondly known as the "Castle of Care." Further, Mr. Sanford promised another $35 million towards the development of the Type 2 Diabetes Project, one of Sanford Health's primary initiatives.
In Southern California, Mr. Sanford has pledged $30 million to the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine (renamed the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine), and $20 million to the Burnham Institute of Medical Research in La Jolla, California (renamed the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute). Most recently, in 2010, he issued a $50 million matching gifts challenge to benefit the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.
In addition to his financial support, Mr. Sanford was responsible for forging a new scientific collaboration between the Mayo Clinic and Sanford Health, through which the two institutions will share innovations in pediatric care and research on a regular basis. Sanford Health is also establishing a similar collaboration with the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.
Mr. Sanford's numerous humanitarian achievements have certainly not gone unnoticed by the public and press, and have resulted in many accolades and honors, including #14 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's list of top donors for 2005, #49 on BusinessWeek's "50 Most Generous Philanthropists" in 2006, #3 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's "Philanthropy 50" in 2007, and #15 on BusinessWeek's "Top 50 American Philanthropists" in 2008, in addition to many other awards.
Aside from business and philanthropy, Mr. Sanford's other personal interests include golf, snow skiing, sailing, and traveling around the world on his private jet. His permanent residence is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but he also maintains homes in Scottsdale, Arizona, Vail, Colorado, and La Jolla, California. His family includes one brother, two sons, and two grandsons.