Entrepreneur Heads Effort to Build Oberlin for the Future
By Anne C. Paine
Thomas J. Klutznick '61 is a busy man. An Oberlin College trustee since 1975, he is president of Thomas J. Klutznick Company, a privately held real-estate investment and development firm in Chicago. During his career, Klutznick has been responsible for the development of more than 30 million square feet of space in 15 cities across the country. His projects have encompassed office buildings, hotels, shopping centers, resorts, and planned communities, including such landmarks as Water Tower Place in Chicago, Copley Place in Boston, and Reston Town Center in Reston, Virginia.
Klutznick's firm is currently developing a retail and hotel complex on the Magnificent Mile of Chicago's North Michigan Avenue. Elsewhere, the company is a partner in Desert Ridge, a 5,700-acre master-planned community in Phoenix, and in Pacific Place, a mixed-use complex in downtown Seattle. The firm is also a consultant to General Dynamics Corporation and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
Being president of your own firm and an active trustee at one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges would be more than enough for the average person to juggle, but Tom Klutznick is not an average person. A mover and shaker in the business world, he is also deeply committed to public service.
That commitment began early on. In the mid-1960s, a 20-something-year-old Klutznick was involved in the renovation of four square blocks of distressed housing in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. During those same years, he and a kindred spirit formed an organization that purchased apartment buildings around the country and integrated them.
Klutznick is a passionate advocate for causes ranging from educational opportunity and urban renewal to drug-abuse prevention and gun control. He's been known to dash off eloquent letters to editors when an article touches on a cause near to his heart. But Klutznick doesn't simply pay lip service to his chosen causes. He carves out time for numerous volunteer commitments and gives generously of his expertise, leadership skills, and financial resources to efforts he deems capable of "making a difference."
As chairman of the advisory board of Roosevelt University's Institute for Metropolitan Affairs, a combination think tank, civic organization, and policy center, Klutznick has helped develop practical, workable solutions to the complex problems facing Chicago and other major metropolitan areas. The institute has implemented programs in public education, community safety, community leadership development, community health, and community development policy. Currently, the institute is involved in a two-year effort to improve the ways in which metropolitan areas respond to the problem of substance abuse. Areas under consideration include treatment, health-care approaches, and the criminal-justice system.
Klutznick is a trustee of the Committee for Economic Development, an independent research and policy organization of business leaders and educators committed to improving the growth and productivity of the U.S. economy, a freer global trading system, and greater opportunity for all Americans.
He is a council member of Resources for the Future, an independent, non-profit organization that helps people make better decisions about conservation and the use of natural resources and the environment.
He is affiliated with the National Building Museum, the Wharton Samuel Zell and Robert Lurie Real Estate Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Guthrie Center for Real Estate Research at Northwestern University. He also is a life trustee at Chicago's Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center.
And (deep breath), as if that weren't enough, Klutznick recently took on another major commitment-this one to his alma mater. He has volunteered, along with College trustees Joan Danforth and William L. Robinson '63, to chair Oberlin's forthcoming comprehensive campaign. To back up that commitment-and to inspire others to commit themselves to ensuring Oberlin's excellence into the new millennium-he has pledged a campaign gift of $5 million, designated for scholarships for low-income students from inner-city schools.
Danforth and Robinson also have made early commitments to the campaign. Danforth has pledged a seven-figure gift and is consulting with Oberlin College President Nancy S. Dye about its best possible use, while Robinson and his wife, Arlene, have agreed to establish an endowed scholarship. Robinson is also working most closely with the fund-raising staff on devising and executing the campaign plan.
The campaign, which will be formally announced in 1999, will be the largest fund-raising effort in Oberlin's history. The primary building project of the campaign is to raise construction and endowment funds for a new science center at the College. Other broad goals are to strengthen the endowment for faculty salaries and student scholarships, to fund major building needs, to enhance Oberlin's academic programs, and to increase the level of annual giving to the College.
"Education is the key to breaking out of the cycle of poverty," Klutznick said. "I want my gift to Oberlin to open opportunities to students who otherwise wouldn't have dreamed of pursuing an Oberlin education."
Klutznick also wants to help Oberlin maintain its diverse community. "Oberlin holds a unique place in American higher education," he noted. "Because it has always valued diversity-it has always admitted students regardless of race-Oberlin looks like America. But without scholarships to assist low-income students, Oberlin risks losing the very diversity that traditionally has been one of its greatest strengths," he said.
The Oberlin ethos of social engagement has been an important influence in Klutznick's life. "In my line of work, it's possible to see only the upscale and the glamorous," he said. "It would be easy for me to overlook the pressing problems of crime, lack of opportunity, drug abuse, and general deterioration of the inner cities in this country. But I can't. I have to be involved, to work to make a difference in this world. It's a philosophy that was instilled in me at Oberlin."
One way Klutznick makes a difference is through his personal philanthropy. He carefully chooses where he will give, ensuring that his gifts will generate the maximum benefit. He sees it as an important responsibility to ensure that his gifts will be used wisely for endeavors that truly work to solve the problems he sees as most pressing.
In many ways, Klutznick follows in the footsteps of his father, Philip M. Klutznick. The elder Klutznick, a lawyer and government official, combined an extraordinarily successful business career with an outstanding roster of public-service commitments. He held the posts of secretary of commerce in the Carter administration and U.S. representative (with the rank of ambassador) to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in the Kennedy administration.
Philip Klutznick was the founder of Urban Investment and Development Company, which gained national recognition for its innovative developments, including the town of Park Forest, Illinois, and three of Chicago's earliest regional shopping centers, Old Orchard, Oakbrook, and River Oaks. Urban eventually became a subsidiary of Aetna Life & Casualty. In addition to his business and government work, Klutznick served as a trustee at Oberlin College and at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and he chaired the Committee for Economic Development's Research and Policy Committee. In the 1950s he served for six years as president of B'nai B'rith, and in 1977 he was named president of the World Jewish Congress.
Almost from the start, the younger Klutznick's career was intertwined with that of his father. Upon graduating from Oberlin with a degree in economics, Tom Klutznick entered the real-estate business with a position at Draper and Kramer, which was Urban's leasing and managing agent. He joined his father in business in 1963, joined Urban in 1968, and when his father retired in 1973, he led the company. In 1982 Klutznick left Urban to pursue private business interests.
When asked about the most important lessons he learned from his father, Klutznick doesn't talk about investment strategies or other business specifics. Rather he talks about religious, philosophical, and ethical values, and "the value of understanding the relationships between people."
Strengthening relationships between Oberlin and the people whose lives have been touched by the College is one of the main reasons Klutznick has taken on this new challenge. "I want this campaign to reach out and touch every Oberlinian, to strengthen the ties and relationships, to make them proud to be associated with Oberlin College. We will measure our success in this campaign not only by the amount of money we raise, but also by the number of people we get involved in building partnerships with the College. A major goal will be to involve more alumni in the life of the institution."
ANNE PAINE is the publications director at Oberlin College.