Stewie Rah Rah was the affectionate nickname given East Hampton and Manhattan billionaire Stewart Rahr by one charity event host in recently hailing his worldclass philanthropy. Considering the fact that Rahr’s charitable donations in 2008 totaled in excess of $10 million and that he has already given away more than $6 million so far this year, the moniker is well chosen. “Now everyone calls me ‘Stewie Rah Rah,’” Rahr, who has clearly become the Rahr-Star of today’s philanthropy, laughed when we recently talked after he had just landed in Las Vegas to breakfast with his friend, tennis superstar Andre Agassi, before attending a benefit for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. (“Stewie Rah Rah” is also his email signature these days.) The following day, Rahr led golf legend Arnold Palmer on a tour of his offices (where they had a putting contest in his private golf room) before driving with Palmer to the Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff to make up a foursome with “The Donald” and President Bill Clinton.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, who famously portrayed Long Island society in The Great Gatsby just about the time when the well-to-do began making the Hamptons their own side of paradise, once wrote that “the rich are different.” Not surprisingly, Rahr is really different. One of the first things you discover about the handsome Rahr is his overabundance of energy ... he lives his life on constant overdrive, speaking and moving a mile a minute and juggling a dozen projects in his head at the same time. One friend, noting that he often answers the phone at his office at 6 am, says (politely plagiarizing the title of Hillary Clinton’s book): “It takes a village to keep up with him ... he exhausts people, but they all love being close to his charisma.”
Exhaust people he may, but nevertheless Rahr’s titanic energy coupled with a genius-level business acumen (as well as an amiable eccentricity) has enabled him to build his company, Kinray, Inc., a once small pharmaceutical wholesaler, into a debt-free $5 billion powerhouse with more than 3,000 customers and over 1,000 employees. Today Kinray is the largest privately held pharmaceutical/generics wholesaler in the world, ranked #7 on Crain’s 2008 list of the top 500 privately held companies in the New York tri-state area. A friend, Doug Crawford, added another reason for Rahr’s success in a Crain’s story a few years back: “Rahr is one of those lucky people who discovered early in life what real talent is: people. He can manage people, energize people, and excite people. He can get people to follow him to hell and back.”
Such talent has made Rahr one of the richest people in America. Forbes recently ranked him at 227 on their list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, estimating his personal worth at $2 billion. But what really drives him these days is a passionate conviction that great success demands giving back to those less fortunate. By following a maxim of Winston Churchill’s, which he often quotes —“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”—he has also become a nationally celebrated philanthropist.
Among the $6 million in charitable gifts this year, Rahr gave $1 million to Miami’s Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis for which he was honored by Nick Buoniconti (whose son, Marc, was paralyzed playing college football in the 1980s), $350,000 to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Florida (Palmer surprised Rahr with a birthday cake with a chocolate billion dollar bill atop it), and in April, Rahr made a $2 million gift to the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Arizona at the legendary boxer’s Celebrity Fight Night, where he was honored along with actor Forest Whitaker, NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, and Olympic swimming gold medalist Michael Phelps. Music producer David Foster introduced Rahr at the event, praising him as a “very, very, very special person, a man with huge heart who always looks to helping others ... Mr. Goodheart should be his nickname. His philanthropy is nothing short of remarkable.” The following month Rahr also gave $500,000 to the National Kidney Foundation and received the charity’s Humanitarian Award at their 30th Annual Gift of Life Tribute in Beverly Hills.
Other charities to which he has contributed include the American Cancer Society, the Columbia and NYU Medical Centers, the Breast Cancer Society, the Children’s Hospital Trust of Boston ($1 million in honor of CBS anchorperson Katie Couric, whose husband died of cancer), the Robin Hood Foundation which runs anti-poverty programs in New York City ($2 million in all), the Israeli Defense Force ($2 million in 2007 to build an outdoor stadium), Kids for Kids AIDS Pediatric, The Fallen Soldiers, and countless others. In 2003 he contributed some $200,000 to the Rainforest Foundation for a two-day golf outing with Tiger Woods, and $48,000 to FACES (Fight Against Childhood Epilepsy and Seizures), for which he was rewarded with a walk-on role on HBO’s Sex and the City.
Last December, Rahr donated $100,000 to PS 226 in the Bronx, to be used to build a gym, presenting the check at an L.A. fundraiser to the school’s health teacher, Robert Romano, brother of Everybody Loves Raymond star Ray Romano. “I attended a New York public school and want to give back,” Rahr said of his contribution.
Just this month, at a star-studded event with Mayor Bloomberg, President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Regis Philbin, D.A. Robert Morgenthau, Senator Charles Schumer, among others, honoree Rahr donatated $1 million to help the children of the Police Athletic League (PAL).
And then there was September 11. The tragedy brought out all the goodness and generosity in this super-patriotic American. On September 12, he sent six vans loaded with medical supplies to Ground Zero, and in April 2003 he beat out all Christie’s bidders, at $100,000, for the only signed photograph of the three firefighters hoisting the American flag at the site (proceeds from the auction went to disaster relief and The Bravest Fund). Later that year he led a memorial service at Kinray where he presented the families of four firefighters and police officers with a check for $100,000 each, donated by his employees, his customers and himself.
Winston Churchill also said “I am easily satisfied with the very best.” So, too, is Stewart Rahr, who with his stratospheric success is clearly able to live very well. In 2004, he paid a reported $45 million in cash for East Hampton’s Burnt Point, a 32,000-square-foot, nine-bedroom colonial mansion on 25 Georgica Pond waterfront acres, making it then the most expensive house sale in New York history. Aside from the expected tennis courts, there’s also a greenhouse, a boathouse for kayaks, a 20-seat private theater, and a “who’s-who” photo gallery of Rahr with hundreds of celebrity buddies including Bill Gates and Prince Harry. In 2005, he first hosted some 300 guests there (including Joaquin Phoenix and Dyan Cannon) who were attending the benefit premiere of the Hamptons International Film Festival, and will do so again this October. Weekends don’t mean that Rahr takes it easy, either (although he does drive around his property in his golf cart at 6 am, soaking up the site’s early morning tranquility). “Charitable work, family, and golf take up most of my free time,” he admits.
In Manhattan, he calls home a 7,000-square-foot, three-bedroom 30th floor-through apartment at Trump Park Avenue, for which he paid $13 million in 2004. Like the East Hampton estate, it’s filled with his collection of modern and impressionist art. Unlike many highly successful men, Rahr doesn’t employ a chauffeur, own a yacht, or a private jet (but occasionally uses the one owned by his long-time pal Donald Trump who calls Rahr, “a spectacular person ... there is no better friend”), and he keeps on schedule with a $100 watch.
Stewart and his wife Carol have two children: Robert, who works in private equity, and Felicia, who is raising a family. Besides being a full time wife, Carol’s time is also occupied by designing jewelry for Beach to Ballroom, a company she co-owns with Orith Wadell.
His pals are as glittery as his lifestyle. An avid golfer, Rahr often hits the Atlantic Club links with buddy Richard LeFrak, who also jokes about Rahr’s high-speed personality: “He likes to play a round of golf in 14 minutes!” In addition to paling around with sports legends like Agassi, Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Phil Mickelson, Rahr also hobnobs with such film and television stars as Justin Timberlake, George Lopez, Ray Romano, and Jay Leno and, not surprisingly, fellow billionaires. It was with three of the latter—software dynamo Tom Siebel, real estate and supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, and former casino owner Phil Ruffin—that he participated in a billionaires’ poker game last year aboard the Forbes family yacht that raised $200,000 of the millions which Rahr has given to a charity especially close to his heart, the Make-A-Wish Foundation (which helps terminally ill kids realize a dream). His generosity has made him the largest single donor in the charity’s history ... for the past 65 consecutive months he has granted at least one wish to a deserving child.
The Rahr saga all began when Stewart dropped out of New York University’s law school to run Kinray with his father Joseph, who founded the business with a single small Brooklyn drugstore in 1944. When Rahr joined the company, Kinray had sales of $1 million a year, and even those were tough to come by. “I remember Charlie Cohen of Cohen’s Pharmacy telling me, ‘Nothing for you today,’ and hanging up on me over and over again,” Rahr recalls. Then in his early twenties but already possessing the persistence of a seasoned salesman, Rahr would push for orders if even for only a couple bottles of Bayer aspirin and Colgate toothpaste. “I never paid any attention to the nay-sayers, and there were countless numbers of them,” he says. “I believed in myself and the many bright individuals I surrounded myself with.” The business began to grow, but slowly.
Then, in 1993, Rahr learned of an order fulfillment innovation that would soon propel his company into industry leadership and put him on the road to becoming a billionaire. During a chat with an Austrian inventor seated next to him on a flight, Rahr learned of a technological breakthrough the Austrian had developed that could automatically process combined orders and send bottles or diabetes kits or whatever onto conveyor belts for distribution. A year after that plane trip Kinray had the order-picking gear at work in its warehouse.
Alongside this then-breakthrough technology, extraordinary customer service was part of the Kinray company philosophy. Not only could a one-store pharmacy get Rahr himself on the phone with a question, suggestion, or complaint, Kinray would help them organize inventory, give them heads-up on new products, and provide in-store promotional materials (even today, Rahr returns calls to many of his customers).
In 1994, when sales jumped 40% to $200 million, Kinray moved from a 25,000-square-foot warehouse to its present facility in Queens, now occupying 400,000 square feet. It is one of the largest distribution centers in the Northeast, providing the capacity for Kinray to accommodate expanding services and markets. In 1997, the company was the first independent wholesaler to install a fully automated warehouse and on-line order system, allowing it to provide a much faster turnaround time and earlier deliveries than its competitors; in 2000, Kinray’s revenue passed the $1 billion mark. Today, the system generates revenues of $2.5 million an hour.