Former Telecom Millionaire Giving Fortune to Children's Causes

Former Telecom Millionaire Giving Fortune to Children's Causes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A millionaire who said he's always been driven to fight for the underdog is quietly giving away most of his fortune to children's humanitarian causes.

"People tell me, 'You've made it, so now you feel a need to give back.' But that's not it," said Jim Greenbaum, 45.

"It has nothing to do with guilt or feeling responsible," he said. "Whether I was successful or not, I'd still be doing this kind of work -- maybe just not at the same level."

A businessman-turned-philanthropist, Greenbaum spent 14 years building Access Long Distance into a nationwide telecommunications company that was worth $250 million when he sold it in 1999.

Then Greenbaum promptly retired.

He plans to spend the rest of his life quietly giving away most of his personal fortune to children's humanitarian causes in Utah and around the world.

Since it began operating in 1999, the James R. Greenbaum Jr. Family Foundation has given more than $3.2 million to children's relief programs and projects in such diverse locales as Russia, India, West Africa and Salt Lake City.

Greenbaum has poured $25 million into the foundation, which by law must give away at least 5 percent of its assets annually.

Such largess makes most Utah philanthropists well known, but Greenbaum has remained in the shadows.

After Greenbaum gave nearly $600,000 to Congregation Kol Ami for its youth education programs, the synagogue offered to name its religious school after him. Greenbaum declined.

"People who give money usually want their name on a plaque or something. But he's not comfortable with that," says the school's director, Rafi Schwartz. "He's very shy."

Humanitarian relief was always his goal, Greenbaum said. Business was merely the means.

The Louisiana native was considering selling real estate when he a brother asked him to help run a family-owned, long-distance phone service company based in Las Vegas.

Greenbaum took over the company in 1985, expanded into Utah and took on a partner, former University of Utah quarterback Scott Cate.

Access Long Distance grew by the late 1990s to encompass 300 employees, offices in nine Western states and $100 million in annual billings. In August 1999, Greenbaum sold the company to McLeod USA and began his new life.

Since then, two-thirds of his money has gone to overseas projects. He has funded a mentoring program for Russian orphans, a shelter in Togo for former child sex slaves and a program that rescues teens and young women from prostitution in India.

He is slower to give money to children's causes in the United States, believing that needs in foreign countries are more acute.

When locals ask Greenbaum for donations, he has a ready response: "I say, 'I can give you this much money, or I can go save this many lives. You tell me what to do."'

Today, Greenbaum directs his philanthropic efforts from an office in his large Mediterranean villa-style home, tucked inside a gated community above the state Capitol in Salt Lake City.

Divorced three times and currently unmarried, Greenbaum spends most evenings not at black-tie dinners but at home cooking spaghetti for his kids, ages 5 to 16, whom he considers the most important part of his life.

In a city where most rich people make headlines at least occasionally, Greenbaum's friends marvel at his near-anonymity.

"He knows what he wants. And being famous isn't it," said Salt Lake City business consultant Brian Moroney.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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