Freeman Foundation and AIG

One of the wonderful things I learned in working with Hank Greenberg to write The AIG Story was how generous its senior executives were.  Hundreds of them grew very rich and then gave generously of their wealth.  Mansfield Freeman, who died on this day 20 years ago (Nov. 17, 1992) and his son Buck, who died almost exactly two years ago (Dec. 1, 2010), epitomized this, through the Freeman Foundation.

Mansfield was there at the beginning, working in China in the 1930s and 1940s alongside Cornelius Vander Starr, who founded the insurance companies that would become the American International Group decades later.   Buck, born in China, followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a close friend and colleague of Hank Greenberg, and thus part of the band of brothers that built AIG into a  global corporate beacon.

Mansfield was a distinguished and published scholar on Chinese philosophy, in addition to having business interests in Asia.  The Freemans loved Asia and China, as well as the U.S.  But both were concerned about a mutual and relative lack of understanding among Asians of the American people and their institutions, and among Americans of oriental cultures, histories, economies and peoples.

The Freeman Foundation, conceived by Mansfield in 1978 and launched and run by Buck after his father’s death in 1992, promotes mutual cross-cultural understanding between Asia and the United States.  Among its beneficiaries is Wesleyan University, where three generations of Freemans earned their college degrees: Mansfield, Buck and Buck’s son, Graeme Freeman.

Awards target promising students from Asian countries who otherwise could not afford to study in the U.S. The Freeman Foundation has funded many other scholarship programs intended to assist Asian students studying in America and American students studying in Asia.

The Freeman Foundation also pays tribute to other AIG employees, especially its M.O.P.s (mobile overseas persons) who spent their careers moving around the world to build the company. For example, in 2008, the Freeman Foundation honored the memory of R. Kendall Nottingham by establishing the Nottingham Fellowship at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater and benefaction. The Fellowship includes a $1 million grant—among the largest the in the school’s history.

Starr and Greenberg set an outstanding example that other AIG executives followed.  The Starr Foundation under Hank Greenberg’s leadership today boasts some $3 billion in assets, among the world’s largest foundations. The Freeman Foundation was never so large, but it nevertheless has made enormously valuable contributions worth recognizing on the anniversary of Mansfield Freeman’s death and nearly the anniversary of his son’s.

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