A look at owner who turned newspapers over to nonprofit

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Posted: Jan 12, 2016 1:59 PM
A look at owner who turned newspapers over to nonprofit

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com announced Tuesday he's turning over the media company to a nonprofit institute. Local philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest says he hopes that a new business model will help them survive. Here's a look at Lenfest:

HOW DID HE MAKE HIS MONEY?

In 1974, while working as a lawyer for media mogul Walter Annenberg, Lenfest borrowed money to pay $2.3 million for Suburban Cable, which then had 7,600 subscribers. It grew into the largest cable system in the Philadelphia area. Lenfest and his wife, Marguerite, made about $1.2 billion when they sold the company to Comcast Corp. in 2000. The Lenfests immediately set out to give away the fortune. By June 2014, Gerry Lenfest estimated he had given away $1.1 billion.

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WHY IS HE GIVING EVERYTHING AWAY?

His three children didn't need the money, because they were given stakes in Lenfest's cable company when it wasn't worth much. Lenfest has said he disliked the idea of a permanent foundation that, he thought, would be more interested in perpetuating itself than helping others. He said he wanted to control how his wealth was spent, so it could do the most good.

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HOW DID HE COME TO OWN THESE NEWS OUTLETS?

Lenfest, 85, unexpectedly became the sole owner of the two newspapers and the news website in June 2014 after his business partner, Lewis Katz, died in a plane crash. Lenfest actually bought the struggling newspapers twice. The first time came in 2012 as part of a six-person local ownership group. When feuding factions developed, he and Katz paid $88 million to outbid rival co-owner George Norcross in a May 2014 auction. Katz died five days later.

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WHAT ELSE HAS LENFEST GIVEN MONEY TO?

The Lenfests' philanthropy has touched arts organizations, schools, hospitals, museums and conservation groups. Recipients include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barnes Foundation, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and Lenfest's alma maters: Mercersburg Academy, Washington and Lee University and Columbia University. Wilson College, Marguerite's alma mater, also received funds.

About $150 million went to a foundation named for the Lenfests, but it must give away every penny it has within 20 years of the last one's death.

"Money is a responsibility when you have that kind of wealth," he said Tuesday of his fortune. "I've tried to do right by it."