Russ sells during bear market

Russ sells during bear market

Berrie Foundation sells remaining
Russ Berrie and Company stock

The Russ Berrie Foundation will sell its remaining 8.8 million shares in Russ Berrie and Company, Inc., officially moving out of the money-making business and into the full-time business of money-giving.

The sale of the stuffed-animal-and-gift-toy manufacturer, which is expected to become final by the end of the month, will transfer the remaining 4′ percent of RUSS stock from the foundation to hedge fund Prentice Capital Management, LP, at a price of $11.40 per share, according to foundation officials.

"The whole reason we sold is because the foundation has a fiduciary responsibility to get the best value for the stock to convert it into cash flow," said Angelica Berrie, Russ Berrie’s widow and the foundation’s president. "We feel the timing is right, and we are getting good value for the business."

The late Russ Berrie was named one of Forbes’ 50 most giving Americans in 1998.

Russ Berrie started Russ and Company in 1963 with $500 and a rented Palisades Park garage, and built it into a NYSE-traded corporation with more than $300 million in annual sales. He started the foundation — which last year gave $18,065,’44 in grants — in 1985, and after his death in ’00’ at the age of 69, the company’s stock went to the foundation.

"It’s something he always felt, that he didn’t need to make his kids richer or all of us more comfortable," said Berrie of her late husband’s decision. "He really felt this was something more important than leaving his money to the next generation. He felt that through philanthropy, there was a lot more to be gained."

In 1998, Forbes named Russ Berrie one of the country’s 40 most generous Americans, and the foundation earned the ‘001 Outstanding Foundation Award from the New Jersey Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The sale of the final 4’ percent of the stock will pump nearly $100 million into the foundation’s assets.

Angelica Berrie said that the foundation’s focus is making "transformational" gifts, such as the $’6 million it gave to start the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa or the recent $’ million matching grant it gave to the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey to jumpstart that federation’s Israel Emergency Campaign.

The foundation is dedicated to promoting "the continuity and enrichment of Jewish communal life," supporting "advances in medicine focusing on diabetes and humanism in medicine," and "fostering the spirit of religious understanding and pluralism," according to its Website. It has taken a special interest in fighting diabetes, from which Russ Berrie suffered since the age of 31.

Angelica Berrie, who was on the corporation’s board, will step down from her position. The foundation’s involvement in the corporation, said Berrie, was a distraction, and she called selling off the remaining interest in the company "a tradeoff. [It] will be a more rewarding life," she said of focusing solely on the philanthropic side.

"It’s emotional because it is my last link to Russ," she said. "But this is a new chapter in my life. I’m looking forward to exploring new things. There is a lot of work to do."

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