John Arnold is an exceptional individual. It is widely publicised that he retired at the age of 38, but that is not the whole story; he retired from paid work. He and his wife, Laura, are now devoted to their own philanthropic organisation.
The Laura and John Arnold Foundation was set up for the couple to improve education, pensions and criminal justice in the USA and in 2010, they signed the Giving Pledge to donate most of their wealth to charitable organisations.
The amount of money given away by John and Laura Arnold is well past the $1 billion mark, and continues to grow. The Arnolds changed their approach to giving money away in the mid 2000s; they moved away from supporting various different groups with no real ‘plan’ and focused more on developing strategies to make longer term, life-changing differences to solving problems facing wider society. Pensions and the criminal justice system are two current focuses.
When asked why they do it and why they donate such vast sums, they explain humbly that they have more than enough resources to provide for their family and lead a very comfortable lifestyle, and they feel it is their duty to provide similar opportunities for others.
They are also realistic, not knowing exactly how much real value their donations make, but believing that if they did not make them, nothing would happen. With youth on their side (both are in their early forties) John and Laura Arnold have both time and determination to see projects through to the end and make a real difference to complicated societal issues.
John Arnold was raised in Dallas, Texas, to a lawyer father and teacher and accountant mother. On graduation from Vanderbilt University, he joined Enron, with the intention of going on to business school, though given his natural ability, his plans changed. Just four years into post college work, aged 27, John Arnold was the highest earning employee at Enron (he was never accused of any wrong-doing at the firm) following extraordinary trading profits.
Laura Arnold is a qualified lawyer and businesswoman. She is originally from Puerto Rico, where her father is from, but moved to Florida as a child. Her mother is from Peru. Highly educated, Laura has studied at Harvard, the University of Cambridge for her master’s degree, and then a law degree at Yale
Together, and through their foundation, they combine giving away huge sums of money with running their donations as a business and making a social return. They live in Houston, Texas, with their three children.