Philadelphia investor Ira Lubert has joined four current or former Penn State staffers on a committee to select a replacement for 46-year football coach Joe Paterno before Christmas.
The architect of the school's popular football program that helped raise Penn State's national profile and attract alumni donations, Paterno was fired early this month along with school President Graham Spanier after a state invesigation of child abuse reports against a former coaching staff member and the university's initial failure to respond.
In his day job, Lubert and his hand-picked partners manage $12 billion at Lubert-Adler real estate funds and a group of related private investment portfolios that count Pennsylvania state and teacher pensions as clients.
But the onetime Nittany Lion wrestler, a 1973 graduate who is in his second term as a Penn State trustee, told me he's "dropping everything to help get this done right for the university. It’s important to get this back on track," given Penn State's half-million graduates, nearly 100,000 students, and tens of thousands of dependent jobs, Lubert said.
Penn State "got me started, and I really feel an obligation to give back. I’m working nonstop for the next three weeks trying to hire the right guy," Lubert said.
Won't his business suffer? "I'm very replaceable," by his partners and managers at each fund, he insisted. Lubert's penchant for hiring veteran specialists for his property, buyout, healthcare and distressed-asset funds contrasts with his mentor and friend, Safeguard Scientifics founder Warren "Pete" Musser, a generalist who practiced old-school "gut" investing.
Lubert "will do anything for the school," South Jersey-based investor John Fries, who first joined Lubert in hotel and property deals in the 1970s, told me. Lubert is friends with fellow search committee member David Joyner, the school's acting athletic director, Fries noted. "He’s a good negotiator and a smart businessman. I think he will be an asset" in hiring talks.
"Ira Lubert is a highly ethical, very successful businessman with great analytical skills," said Robert Turner, who runs the Turner mutual funds in Berwyn. "He's tough, but fair," says Michael Forman, head of Philadelphia's fast-growing Franklin Square investment funds, who has invested with Lubert. "We're all saying, 'Go Ira, and go Penn State,'" said Philadelphia publicist Kelly Boyd.