Penny Pritzker Elected Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow
Penny Pritzker ’81, a member of the Harvard Corporation since 2018, has been elected senior fellow, succeeding William F. Lee ’72, effective this July 1. She will be the first woman to serve in the role, leading the University’s fiduciary governing board.
Pritzker, a member of the Board of Overseers from 2002 to 2008, has long been involved with her alma mater. She was expected to be a leader of the Harvard Campaign but had to decline that service when President Barack Obama appointed her U.S. secretary of commerce. When she was appointed to the Corporation, she said, “It’s an incredible honor and privilege to be returning to Harvard in this important role. I am deeply grateful to this university community for its transformative impact on my life and career, helping to shape not only my learning but also my values and commitment to others. Harvard’s faculty, students, and staff are dedicated to academic rigor, world-class research, and making positive contributions to people across America and throughout the globe.”
A leading member of a prominent Chicago family, Pritzker founded and directed diverse businesses in real estate, hospitality, financial services, and other industries. She is founder and chair of PSP Partners (a global private investment firm) and its affiliates, Pritzker Realty Group, PSP Capital, and PSP Growth. She has also been a trustee of Stanford, where she earned her J.D. and M.B.A.
In addition to her Overseer service, Pritzker was a founding member of the Corporation’s Committee on Facilities and Capital Planning, following the reforms in governance implemented in late 2010; given her real-estate experience, it was natural for her to be an adviser on Allston planning. She has served on visiting committees for the Harvard Art Museums, the College, the Graduate School of Design, and the Graduate School of Education. Pritzker and her husband, Dr. Bryan Traubert, have supported work on childhood obesity at the public-health school. The redesign of Cabot Science Library and reconfiguration of the common spaces, now named Pritzker Commons, reflect her support during the campaign. Last fall, she made a $100-million gift to build a new home for the Harvard economics department.
According to the University news announcement, Pritzker’s current Corporation service includes membership on the Committee on Governance, the Committee on Finance, and the Joint Committee on Alumni Affairs and Development, which she previously co-chaired. She is also a board member of the Harvard Allston Land Company, which is leading development of the commercial Enterprise Research Campus, across Western Avenue from Harvard Business School.
In the announcement, President Lawrence S. Bacow said:
Penny Pritzker brings an extraordinary mix of qualities to this important role—distinguished service across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, far-reaching experience as a board member and civic leader, and a decades-long devotion to Harvard and our highest aspirations. She cares deeply about inclusion and opportunity, and about the power of education to change lives for the better. We will be fortunate to have someone of Penny’s experience, judgment, dedication, and breadth of interests as our new senior fellow. She’ll be a worthy successor to Bill Lee, who has served Harvard with such remarkable wisdom, insight, energy, and humility over nearly two decades on the governing boards.
I’m deeply honored to have been chosen as senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation. Harvard’s commitment to educating citizen leaders, to pathbreaking research, and to creating opportunity and knowledge that help people around the world has never been more important. I look forward to working with President Bacow, my fellow members of the Corporation, and the wider Harvard community to advance that vital mission and the ongoing pursuit of Veritas. I am also grateful to Bill Lee for his friendship. He has devoted much of his life to Harvard, and I want to pay tribute to his remarkable leadership as senior fellow. He has been a wise counselor, a thoughtful adviser, and a dedicated steward of the excellence and values that underpin this extraordinary institution.
In addition to her business activities, Pritzker is a life trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the founder of Skills for America’s Future and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future; chair of the board of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and a member of President Biden’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. She is a past member of the Chicago Board of Education, a former member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, and past chair of the Chicago Public Education Fund.
Fellow Corporation member Kenneth I. Chenault, former chairman and CEO of American Express, said in a statement, “Penny Pritzker is an outstanding leader who has excelled in every role she has taken on, in business, in government and as a civic leader. I worked closely with her as a business leader and while she was secretary of commerce, and have seen first-hand her exceptional judgment, her commitment to expanding opportunity, and a real empathy for all those she interacts with. I know she is going to be a very effective senior fellow for Harvard.” Shirley M. Tilghman, Princeton president emerita, also on the Corporation, said in statement that “Pritzker has the leadership experience in both business and government, as well as a deep and longstanding interest in both K-12 and higher education that made her the obvious choice to succeed Bill Lee as senior fellow….She approaches every issue carefully, and has the uncanny ability to ask just the right question when the Corporation is debating an issue.” And fellow Chicagoan and Corporation member Paul J. Finnegan, who is Harvard’s treasurer, said in a statement, “Penny has excelled in so many fields. She is a highly successful entrepreneur, public servant, investor, and philanthropist. In each area, she has shown distinct leadership skills and an orientation toward collaboration which has inspired others to join with her. As a member of the Corporation, she has been a quick study and wonderful colleague. We all are excited that she will be our new senior fellow.”
In the news release, Lee said, “Penny Pritzker has been an outstanding colleague on the Corporation, and she’ll be a terrific new senior fellow, fully dedicated to helping Harvard thrive.”
Of his own service, Lee said, “For me, the opportunity to serve on the Corporation, alongside two extraordinary presidents and great colleagues on the governing boards and beyond, has been a singularly gratifying experience. Our role on the boards is largely about doing what we can to enable our remarkable faculty, students, and staff to do their best work. And at its best, that work can make an enormous positive difference in the world. It has been a privilege to have done what I could do to help make that good work happen.”
Lee was involved in shaping the 2010 governance reforms; was the first senior fellow elected under the new procedures; had a great deal to do with implementing the changes outlined in 2010; and has of late served as the University’s lead counsel in the Students for Fair Admissions litigation against Harvard College’s admissions procedures. An active senior fellow, he has been present on campus—for example, engaging with advocates of divestment of fossil-fuel holdings from the endowment (which he and the Corporation formally opposed). He currently chairs the Corporation Committees on Governance and Shareholder Responsibility.
In the announcement, Bacow said:
For all of us privileged to work with him, Bill Lee is, and remains, a superb colleague and leader—wise, thoughtful, open-minded, strategic, selfless, and always focused on doing what’s right. As with other great team players, many of his most important contributions don’t show up in the box score. Bill has always been there for us, helping to keep Harvard on a steady and ambitious course. I, like many others, have benefited enormously from his wise counsel. Bill elevates every conversation that he participates in, and his trusted leadership on the governing boards has been invaluable. I look forward to further opportunities to thank him, but I know we can never thank him enough.
Chenault said, “It has been an honor to serve on the Corporation during Bill Lee’s time as senior fellow. He has always sought to engage with all parts of the Harvard community to inform the work of the Corporation. He is a great consensus builder as someone who exudes integrity and engenders trust from all those he works with. Harvard is fortunate to have had Bill’s wise counsel and leadership.”
Finnegan added, “It will be hard for me to think of the Corporation without Bill Lee. To begin, Bill has such a warm disposition, a willingness and interest in listening, and a unique ability to guide an animated deliberation to a collegial resolution. Throughout our time together, I viewed Bill as a trusted partner and one who has an amazing understanding and grasp of issues facing the University. He is the ultimate problem solver.”
Tilghman, looking to the past, cited Lee’s “untold hours” of working with both president emerita Drew Faust and Bacow as “a true thought partner.” She hailed Lee thus—in a note that could be of future interest within the Harvard community: “His wisdom and integrity, as well as his insights into Harvard’s culture, have guided the Corporation through the last eight years. His quiet leadership style [was] on full display during the very successful presidential search.” Given the normal length of contemporary university presidencies, the responsibility for leading the search for Bacow’s ultimate successor could very well become Pritzker’s.
In his emailed notice to the community, Bacow wrote about Lee, whose Corporation service concludes June 30, in more personal terms:
I could go on nonstop about all that Bill has meant to Harvard—as a leading member of the Corporation for nearly 12 years, as an Overseer for six years before that, and as someone so engaged and so helpful on so many fronts that it’s hard to believe he’s just one person. But he’s not finished yet, even after having managed the process to identify his successor. And one of Bill’s greatest virtues is his humility—a characteristic as evident to his colleagues and friends as his exceptional wisdom and judgment, his deep concern for others, and his commitment to an ambitious, diverse, and forward-looking Harvard. So let me simply say, for now, that the University has been genuinely blessed by his nearly two decades’ service on the governing boards, through times of unusual challenge for the University and historic changes for the Corporation. I look forward to other opportunities to recognize and thank Bill more fully, though I know we could never thank him enough.
In welcoming Pritzker to her new role, the president wrote, “I know she will do all the best she can for Harvard, animated by a deep belief in how all of us can serve the world.”