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Christel DeHaan

Sharing Her Wealth to Break the Cycle of Poverty

Christel, an active proponent of social responsibility, shares her wealth with arts organizations.

Once you’ve endured hardship, crossed borders, and achieved the riches of the classic American Dream, what do you do next?

Some people might sigh happily, sit down by a pool with a tropical cocktail, and watch the world go by.

DeHaan is worth $900 million. She is ranked #18 on Forbes magazine’s 2016 Self-Made Women list. But the co-founder of wildly-successful Resort Condominiums International, Inc. (RCI) has never been one to rest on her laurels. She is an active proponent of social responsibility, sharing her wealth with arts organizations in her adopted U.S. hometown of Indianapolis as well as her alma mater, the University of Indianapolis.

Most of all, though, DeHaan helps children. Severely impoverished children. In India, South Africa, Mexico, and yes, in the United States. Her drive to break children out of the cycle of poverty could be rooted in her own humble childhood, her mother’s belief in feeding disadvantaged neighbors despite their own hardships, her Franciscan convent education – or all three.

DeHaan was born at the height of World War II in a small German town between Stuttgart and Munich. Her father was killed in a bombing raid when she was still a toddler. Christel and her sister Evelin were raised on meager post-war food rations and the apples she could gather in the ravaged country.

Growing up, the young girl often fantasized about living in the United States. She headed to England in her late teens to work as a nanny and hone her English language skills. When she returned to Germany, she landed a job at a U.S. Army base and there she met her first husband, an American G.I. Her dreams became reality as she crossed the Atlantic and landed in the United States in 1962.

While raising three children in her new Indianapolis home, she co-founded RCI in 1974. The company was uniquely positioned to take advantage of the burgeoning condominium real estate market. By leveraging fractional ownership with the novel approach of condominium exchange, DeHaan availed exotic vacations to people who couldn’t previously afford them.

Over the next 20 years, she also transformed RCI into a major global enterprise with offices in 38 countries. She also elevated her industry by lobbying for consumer protections in the timeshare sales. When she sold the company in 1996 for $825 million, she became one of the country’s richest women.

For the past twenty years, DeHaan has been known as one of the country’s most accomplished businesswomen. As head of the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, she has also been one of the country’s most generous philanthropists. She serves on numerous local and national boards and has been awarded with three honorary doctorate degrees. Her name adorns multiple buildings and museums, including the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center at the University of Indianapolis.

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