Hansjorg Wyss was born in Bern, Switzerland on September 19, 1935. He earned an MS degree in Civil and Structural Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Zurich) in 1959, and an MBA from the Harvard University Graduate School of Business in 1965. After completing his education, Wyss was employed in the textile industry in places like Pakistan, Turkey, and the Philippines. He also worked in the steel industry in Belgium, during which time he ran a side business selling airplanes. One of his buyers was a surgeon who in 1960 had co-founded the Swiss medical-device manufacturer Synthes; this encounter sparked Wyss's interest in that industry, and eventually led to Wyss becoming the founder and president of Synthes's U.S. division in 1977.
In 1998, Mr. Wyss established the Wyss Foundation as a philanthropy dedicated to supporting “projects in areas from conservation and education to economic opportunity and social justice.” To date, Wyss and his Foundation have donated more than $350 million to environmental/conservation efforts in particular; the recipients of these grants are largely leftist organizations that view capitalism and human industrial activity as inherently destructive of the natural world. In 2010, for instance, Wyss contributed $35 million to help the Trust for Public Land and the Nature Conservancy purchase 310,000 acres of private timberlands in northern Montana, to protect grizzly bear and wolverine habitats from any form of encroachment by business or industry. In 2013 he donated $4.25 million to the Trust for Public Land, to purchase oil and gas leases on 58,000 acres Wyoming's Hoback Basin and thereby protect the region from development. That same year, Wyss spent $2 million to help dismantle the 100-year-old Veazie Dam and thus restore fish passage in Maine's Penobscot River. And in 2015, Wyss Foundation funds helped the Nature Conservancy purchase 3,184 acres along the Hoh River in Washington, in an effort to increase salmon populations there.
In addition, Wyss has established a number of endowed chairs in medicine; he supports research, education, and training at numerous universities and hospitals; in 2009 he contributed $125 million to Harvard University to fund the establishment of a biological institute bearing his name; in 2013 he pledged another $125 million to Harvard; and in 2014 he pledged $120 million to help two Swiss universities create a center dedicated to the acceleration of medical breakthroughs.
In 2009, Wyss helped establish PeaceNexus, a nonprofit foundation that helps government institutions, non-governmental organizations, and businesses find ways to promote peacebuilding efforts in conflict-plagued areas. Wyss and his Foundation have also provided scholarships and fellowships in the fields of music, medicine, business, and the arts at institutions worldwide. And the Wyss Foundation, which is a member of the Democracy Alliance, administers programs aimed at “expanding economic opportunity and reducing inequality”; “helping build a society where women are empowered and have equal opportunities”; and “ensuring humane treatment of refugees and immigrants.”
Hansjorg Wyss's net worth is currently estimated at $6.1 billion. Aside from the hundreds of millions of dollars he has contributed to left-wing activist groups over the years, he has also distinguished himself as a major ally of the Democratic Party and has given millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. In 2013, Wyss’s now-defunct HJW Foundation paid $87,083 to Democrat operative and close Clinton ally John Podesta, for consulting services he provided. During Podesta's tenure as chief executive officer of the Center For American Progress, on whose board of directors Wyss himself serves, the organization received $4.1 million in funding from Wyss.
In 2009, U.S. Attorneys for Eastern Pennsylvania indicted several of Synthes's top executives for having used (in clinical trials during 2007) an untested calcium-phosphate-based bone cement, which had not been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, on human patients who were never informed that the compound was being injected into their spines; five of the patients died as a direct result of this experimental procedure. Rather than taking the case to trial, the Obama-Holder Justice Department arranged a settlement in which four Synthes executives were sentenced to prison terms while the company paid a $22 million fine. Wyss, however, was not indicted, and the Justice Department never explained why.
In 2012, Wyss sold Synthes to Johnson & Johnson for $20.2 billion in cash and stock.
In December 2015, the daughter of 67-year old Reba Golden – one of the five victims who died in Synthes' 2007 clinical trials – filed a lawsuit charging Wyss and his fellow Synthes executives with second-degree murder, second-degree assault, and criminal profiteering. All told, Wyss was charged with 37 violations.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, a leaked Wyss Foundation memo from March 2015 indicated that the philanthropy was planning to spend $100 million over a five-year period to promote a variety of initiatives designed to “alter the [American] electorate” and thereby influence the results of U.S. elections in a manner that would increase Democrat power at all levels of government. These initiatives included voter-registration drives, outreach, research, organizing, and legal and policy advocacy with regard to voting laws. Notably, the Wyss Foundation privately informed the Democratic National Committee about these plans.