Forget baby photos and group chats. One donor is making offspring shareholders in his company.
Not so long ago, children born via sperm donation were told that the donors who had helped create them would never want to know them — or even know about them. The Nice Man had given his seed and that was the end of it. Getting in touch might ruin his real life.
Times have changed. Not only have many donors embraced the offspring-donor connection made possible through the Donor Sibling Registry and low-cost genetic testing, they are reforming what that relationship looks like. Some donors and offspring exchange emails and photos. Some set up closed Facebook groups. Some meet for large extended-family shindigs. And at least one, it turns out, is making donor kids shareholders in the company that he built himself and has worked in all his life.
"I think of them as close biological relatives," says Kirk Maxey. "I wanted to provide a positive influence in their lives without being a true social parent."
Maxey launched his biochemical company, Cayman Chemical, in the early 1980s, while he was completing medical school. The company, which produces research biochemicals, forensic drug standards for law enforcement, and generic medicines to prevent blindness, now has over 400 employees and is currently valued at around $350 million USD. Maxey is now in his sixties, and has begun to think seriously about his legacy — not only about what he wants to happen to the company assets, but also about what he wants to contribute to the lives of his various biological offspring.
But exactly how many biological offspring he has is not known. Through marriage, he has five social children. Through known donation, there are eight more. But Maxey also donated sperm through a local fertility clinic for several years, starting when he was a student, and he can only estimate how many children were born as a result of those donations. "I did the math," he says, "and depending on your assumptions, there could be 400 offspring out there." He thinks it's probably closer to 200 or 250, but says he's prepared: "If 400 come forward, I won't be disappointed."
Maxey met the first "anonymous" donor offspring in person more than a decade ago. He's now been in touch with about a dozen of them. He was interested in bringing the donor offspring together in a semi-organized way, so that they would have an opportunity to meet each other; they live all over, and otherwise wouldn't have cause to meet. His company already had a tradition of giving employees ten shares to honour their 15-year work anniversary, and that got Maxey thinking. Could the shareholders' meeting be the coalescing event?
Shareholders are all notified by mail of the meeting, where they can learn about the company, and vote. "I thought it would be cool if all of the donor kids got the same letter," he says. "They could all meet each other and many of my social kids — who are much more significant shareholders — plus the people who have worked here for years."
Not only would it create a sort of mini-convention, bringing together many key facets of his life, it would also answer some of the questions from his donor offspring. "They were curious," he says. They were intrigued that their biological father had created a successful company, and they wanted to know more about that. "This was a way to give them a seat at a two-hour event, where the CFO goes all through the departments and subsidiaries and staff, and they really get schooled in what the company is."
Like many founders of successful companies, Maxey has thought long and hard about succession and what it should achieve. Most of his wealth will go to his social children — but leaving them everything, he believes, would handicap their work ethic and autonomy. Transferring small but significant share holdings to the donor offspring both recognizes their ancestry and gives them a small financial boost, he says. "The donor offspring's share is an amount that could provide a year of college tuition or the down payment on a house," he says, "and could significantly enhance their lives at a time when they are just putting the big pieces in place."
Last year, two new donor offspring attended the shareholder meeting. "I tried to put one up to nominating the other as a director," Maxey jokes. "They didn't do it, but there was some snickering. We had fun. It was a good meeting." Afterwards, they had dinner at his house. "It turned out exactly as I hoped."
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