Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Special: Manhattan's Moral Millionaire

Profile: Bernard L. Schwartz

By Liz Garber-Paul

Bernard Schwartz’s office looks like something out of a Cary Grant movie. His computer-less desk is messy and covered in stacks of papers. He is framed by two geometric, clear glass lamps positioned on another table behind him. There are two pictures of him laughing with Bill Clinton and another of him on the cover of New York Times Magazine. He is an elderly man, wearing a tailored grey suit and a tie covered in multicolored school buses.

But despite the location—a corner office 30 stories over the Bergdorf Men’s Store with views of Central Park—he is the kind of millionaire you don’t see in the news very often.

Schwartz, an 80 year-old business executive and philanthropist, has served on The New School’s Board of Trustees for three years. As a native New Yorker, Schwartz says he has focused his philanthropic efforts on giving back to the city that made him who he is.

”It takes a lot of effort,” Schwartz says. “This is not an easy city because the energy level is so high in every direction, but the rewards are so great.”

Schwartz says that although he and his family have three general philanthropic areas of interest—medical research, educational initiatives, and cultural and civic organizations—they must all have a connection with New York.

“This is the most exciting city in the world, which is distinguished by the fact that there are so many competing cultural things that are going on,” he says. “We want to advance that competition and that activity.”

Schwartz has another passion—the Democratic Party. According to NBC, he was the single largest contributor between 1992 and 1996, when Clinton was in office.

“It’s easy for me to be supportive of a democratic leader who has a view of his world similar to mine,” says Schwartz about the former president. He also supports Hillary’s run for the White House, and attended her fundraiser in March. “It was a love-in!” he says.

During the time he spent in Washington in the 1990’s, Schwartz became good friends with Bob Kerrey. So when the former Senator became the president of The New School, Schwartz came on board as a trustee and made it a prime example of his philanthropy. He gave a grant to The New School’s Center for Economic Policy Analysis in 2004—a center that concentrates on economic growth, unemployment and inequality, with a specific focus on the U.S. economy—renaming it the Schwartz Center.

Last spring, he and his wife initiated the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Merit Scholarship Challenge at Lang. The challenge invited other donations to be used for any scholarship purpose; their matching contributions go to the self-named fund in order to recruit top students.

Schwartz also helped establish programs at other institutions, including Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, The Council on Foreign Relations (a non-partisan center for scholars, students, and policymakers) The Brookings Institution, and Tel Aviv University. He also serves as a trustee of the New York University Hospitals Center, the New York Historical Society, PBS channel 13, and Baruch College.

Even his love of education eventually leads back to his love of New York—not just because it’s the financial capital, as he says, but because of its unique culture. His wife is a trustee at the American Ballet Theater, and he is the vice chairman of the New York Film Society. But he doesn’t think you need to be a millionaire to experience the best things the city has to offer.

“You can do New York city on a very low budget,” Schwartz says. “It’s just being aggressive in determining what they are, and taking advantage of it. That’s part of the education. It’s not just about what happens in the classroom.”

Schwartz has a long history with New York City, not just with giving money to New York’s organizations.

Raised in Bensonhurst, Schwartz went on to receive a B.S. from City College, the same institution that later awarded him with an honorary doctorate degree. During World War II, he was stuck in American army training because he was too young to be deployed into combat.

“I say I’m lucky now,” he says. “But I didn’t think I was lucky then.”

Until 1996, Schwartz was chairman of Loral Corporation, a Fortune 200 designer and manufacturer of state-of-the-art defense systems, for 24 years. Schwartz proved to be a very successful leader: starting in 1972, Loral posted 96 consecutive months of increased earnings, and between 1972 and 1996 the value of the company rose 200%, from $7.5 million to $15 million. In 1996, when the company shifted its focus from defense systems to satellite manufacturing and changed its name to Loral Space and Communications, Schwartz stayed on as chairman and CEO for another 10 years.

Despite his corporate background, what stands out most are his philanthropic efforts.

“His greatest contribution is his enthusiasm for the mission of improving the quality of our undergraduate efforts,” says Bob Kerrey. “His confidence infects others who may doubt our capacity to succeed.”

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