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PENNY PRITZKER Printer Friendly Page
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  • Member of the wealthy and influential Pritzker family of Chicago
  • Leading fundraiser and donor for her longtime friend, Barack Obama
  • Served as national co-chair of Obama for America (an affiliate of Organizing For America) in 2012
  • Was nominated by President Obama to serve as Secretary of Commerce in 2013

Born in 1959, Penny Pritzker earned a BA in economics from Harvard College in 1981 and a JD/MBA from Stanford University in 1984. She is a member of the wealthy and influential Pritzker family of Chicago. Her father, Donald Pritzker (born 1932), was chiefly responsible for the meteoric growth of the Hyatt Hotels Corporation. Today Ms. Pritzker is an owner of that same Hyatt hotel chain. She first established herself as a major entrepreneurial figure in 1987, when she founded Classic Residence by Hyatt (now called Vi), a leader in luxury dwellings for older adults.

In 1988, Pritzker’s family purchased from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation a 50% stake in a failing, Illinois-based savings-and-loan, and turned it into an institution called Superior Bank. Penny Pritzker, who in 1991 founded both Centergate Residential and the Pritzker Realty Group, served as chairwoman of Superior Bank from 1991-94; thereafter, she sat on the board of the bank’s holding company. In 1993 Superior became a leading lender in the subprime home mortgages market.

By May 2001, Superior Bank was on the verge of insolvency. To allay the fears of bank employees who worried that their jobs were in jeopardy, Ms. Pritzker wrote them all a letter pledging that her family would soon jump-start Superior with a large infusion of cash, and declaring that “our commitment to subprime lending has never been stronger.” But Pritzker's promise was broken, and just two months later Superior shuttered its operations and was seized by the FDIC, which would ultimately trace the bank's failure “directly ... to bank management and the board of directors ignoring sound risk management principles and failing to adequately oversee Superior operations.” According to the Wall Street Journal, government investigators and consumer advocates alike condemned Superior's “unsound financial activities and predatory lending practices.” In 2001 the Pritzkers agreed to pay the FDIC some $460 million over a 15-year period to cover claims by depositors. Nevertheless, more than 1,400 depositors whose savings accounts had accumulated more than $100,000—the maximum amount insured by the federal government—lost about $10 million collectively.

From 2004-11, Penny Pritzker served as board chair of the credit bureau TransUnion, LLC. In 2010 she co-founded Artemis Real Estate Partners, a real-estate investment management company. And two years after that, she established PSP Capital Partners, a private investment firm.

In 2008, Pritzker, who has been a friend of Barack Obama since the mid-1990s, became one of the Obama presidential campaign's leading money bundlers, personally raising more than $200,000 for the senator's White House bid. Pritzker also served as the Obama campaign's national finance chair, a role in which she use her professional credentials and personal connections to persuade a host of wealthy bankers, business leaders, and political bundlers that the former radical community organizer was worthy of their support. All told, Pritzker oversaw the raising of more than $745 million for Obama's campaign, plus another $53 million for the president's 2009 inauguration. According to The New York Times:

“Without Penny Pritzker, it is unlikely that Barack Obama ever would have been elected to the United States Senate or the presidency.... For most of 2007, Obama trailed Hillary Rodham Clinton in polls, and yet his candidacy survived in large part because of the money collected by Pritzker and her team.”[1]

Soon after Obama was elected in 2008, he was widely expected to nominate Pritzker for the post of commerce secretary. But he ultimately decided otherwise—likely because the nation was in the throes of a severe financial crisis caused in large part by precisely the kind of reckless subprime lending that the Pritzker family's Superior Bank had engaged in so heavily. Instead, Obama appointed Pritzker to the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, and then to his Council for Jobs and Competitiveness.

In May 2011, Chicago mayor (and former Obama chief of staff) Rahm Emanuel named Pritzker to the Chicago Board of Education, where she continues to be a member.

When President Obama ran for re-election in 2012, Pritzker served as national co-chair of Obama for America (an affiliate of Organizing For America) and personally raised more than $500,000 for the campaign.[2]

On May 2, 2013, Obama nominated Pritzker to serve as Secretary of Commerce.

In addition to her many other duties, Pritzker currently directs the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation which, from 2007-09, donated a total of $400,000 to Media Matters For America, an organization with extremely close ties to the Obama administration.

In 2009 Forbes magazine ranked Pritzker as #82 in its list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. In 2012 the Forbes 400 list showed Pritzker to be the 255th wealthiest person in the U.S., with a personal net worth estimated at $1.8 billion.

For additional information on Penny Pritzker, click here.


[1] Pritzker's contributions to Obama's White House bid were not limited solely to fundraising and bundling. She personally gave $63,500 to the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

[2] Pritzker also gave $117,400 of her own money to Obama and the Democratic National Committee. After Obama's re-election, Pritzker donated $250,000 to his January 2013 inauguration.



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