The new Philadelphia Business Hall of Fame: Its mission and its members

They are pillars of the community, risk-takers whose visions inspired businesses and institutions that have reshaped the region, and the world, potentially for generations to come.

John C. Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, transformed the mutual-fund industry for small investors. Brian L. Roberts remade Comcast, a regional cable company, into a global media powerhouse. Joseph Neubauer, whose parents fled Nazi Germany, expanded Aramark into an international food-service giant.

Some came from modest origins. JoAnne Epps, who grew up in a middle-class Cheltenham family, stepped in as Temple University provost and chief academic officer after her predecessor was unexpectedly removed. The late Ed Snider, the cofounder of the Philadelphia Flyers who revolutionized the sports and entertainment arena management business, started out doing menial tasks in his father's grocery store.

These five individuals make up the inaugural class of the Philadelphia Business Hall of Fame, launched this year by the Inquirer to recognize "industry icons" with stellar records of civic engagement and professional achievement.

"I can't think of any better way to promote civic pride in Philadelphia than to recognize its business leaders," said H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, who chairs the board of managers of the Institute for Journalism in New Media, the nonprofit that owns the Inquirer's parent company.

"It's long overdue," Lenfest said. "I think there's no more appropriate source of this than the Philadelphia Inquirer."

The award was the brainchild of Terrance C.Z. Egger, who last year became chief executive of Philadelphia Media Network, parent company of the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com. Egger is also the newspapers' publisher.

One of Egger's new business ventures is to expand PMN's sponsorship of events, to build upon what he says are the company's core competencies: to inform, influence and convene the public.

"One of the things I was very surprised by is that a city with the rich tradition of Philadelphia had no Hall of Fame for business," said Egger, who was previously publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He was inducted into the Northeast Ohio Business Hall of Fame in 2011.

In organizing the Philadelphia Business Hall of Fame, Egger said, his team also decided to seek public nominations to recognize a rising class of business leaders as "emerging icons."

Six emerging icons, as well as the new Hall of Fame members, will receive awards at a dinner Wednesday at Vie, a Cescaphe Event Group Venue, 600 N. Broad St.

Many communities have business halls of fame, often organized by local chambers of commerce. Some are created by media outlets, as was the case in Northeast Ohio, where Cleveland magazine organized the group into which Egger was inducted. The Baltimore Sun launched a similar program in Maryland this year.

"It just seemed like an absolute natural," said Egger. "For 187 years the Inquirer has been covering the business community in Philadelphia, there's not been this formal recognition. We would have the expertise to know the field pretty well."

For a news media outlet, bestowing awards on community members who are also newsmakers might put its editorial mission in an awkward position to maintain impartiality. William K. Marimow, the Inquirer's executive editor, said it is not uncharted territory and likened it to the past recognition of a Citizen of the Year by the newspaper's editorial page.

"I think it's valuable to recognize and chronicle the careers of people whose work has left a permanent mark on our city and our suburbs," Marimow said.

"It's not going to change our commitment to covering the news honestly and fairly," he said.

A media ethicist said these types of events are legitimate, as long as the news outlets do not allow their commercial interests to interfere with their civic mission.

"It has the potential to create problems, but if it's administered well, it won't," said Kelly McBride, vice president of academic programs at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in Florida. She said the involvement of the Inquirer's top editors in the awards-selection process was reassuring.

"I think that stuff like this is really good for the community and that news organizations need to be doing more of it, but you have to do it for the right reasons," McBride said. "You have to do it because it builds community and engages audience."

There is no doubt, Egger said, that newspapers and traditional media outlets are increasingly turning to events as a means to adapt to a new digital world, in which their news product is rapidly dispersed and reproduced online, often to the detriment of brand identity.

"If you do the events well and people have a good experience, that experience cascades, in my opinion, to the relationship between us and our community, and that puts us in a stronger position," he said.

The Hall of Fame concept is still evolving.

Lenfest said the newspaper's commitment is long term, but it is unclear whether there will be a physical space devoted to the winners.

Egger said he favors a space within the newspaper's premises, outside the newsroom, where the honorees are recognized.

amaykuth@phillynews.com

215-854-2947

@maykuth