Former Stanford University neurosurgeon James Doty has donated $5.4 million to the Stanford University School of Medicine, one of the largest gifts ever made by a present or former faculty member.
But that's only part of the story. Bcause of the dot.com bust, the donation constituted almost everything he had financially. Yet he stood behind it.
Doty, 51, served as an adjunct faculty member between 1997 and 2004. He also invested in medical technology companies, one of which was Accuray, Inc. The Sunnyvale company marketed Cyberknife, invented by fellow Stanford neurosurgeon John Adler. Doty served as the company's CEO from 1997 to 1999.
While at Accuray, Doty put his company stock into a charitable trust to benefit Stanford. He could afford to do so, because by early 2000 he had accumulated $75 million in paper profits in Accuray and in other companies.
But the dot-com bust melted away almost all of Doty's paper wealth. He was in the process of buying an island of New Zealand, a villa in Tuscany, and made a down payment on a $5 million San Francisco apartment with a view of the Bay.
Doty could have legally backed out of his plan to commit his stock in Accuray to Stanford. But he kept the commitment and also donated his own money keep Accuray afloat.
"He put up money when all of Silicon Valley wouldn't," Adler told the Stanford Medical Center Department of Communications & Public Affairs. "The company would not have survived without his help."
Doty had committed 398,400 shares of the company to the medical school. The company later went public and became very profitable. The stock Doty had committed was sold for $5.4 million, all to benefit the medical school.
"Jim is a truly remarkable individual," said Philip Pizzo, dean of the medical school. "A highly successful physician-innovator and committed academic leader, he is also an incredibly honorable individual with admirable integrity.
"He has continued to commit his support even though his own personal wealth has unfortunately declined. We stand in awe."
"I'm happy to give it," Doty said. "I'm thankful. It's actually been a wonderful experience and has made me a better person."
He personally never benefited from the company's success because his stock shares had been committed to Stanford.
Doty has been living in Mississippi where he directs a neuroscience program at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, an area damaged by Hurricane Katrina. He is also on the faculty at Tulane University in New Orleans and plans to return to the Stanford faculty in January.
Doty's gift to Stanford will create an endowed chair in neurosurgery and support a program to develop new treatments for spinal cord injuries.
Doty, who received his medical degree from Tulane, worked his way through college. His family was on welfare when he was growing up.
"I'm fortunate that not only am I able to contribute to others as a neurosurgeon, but my Stanford experience has allowed me to develop wonderful relationships and be exposed to immense opportunity," he said.