Updated: Tuesday, October 31, 2017, 12:32 PM
A common thread connects the five diverse individuals who will be inducted this week into the Philadelphia Business Hall of Fame: They all set course at a young age on a path to excellence and pursued it to the pinnacle of success, inspiring others along the way.
Richard Rothman was a surgeon in his 30s when he enlisted a wealthy philanthropist to create the Rothman Institute, now one of the world’s largest orthopedic organizations. Joan Myers Brown, frustrated by the lack of opportunities for young African American dancers, was in her 20s when she founded Philadanco, which blossomed into a cultural powerhouse.
Jami Wintz McKeon, fresh out of Villanova law school, built a reputation as an indefatigable litigator and rose to the top of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, a prominent city law firm that has become a global player. Madeline Bell, who began her career as a pediatric nurse, took the helm at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one of America’s top-ranked children’s hospitals.
And Lewis Katz, who grew up poor in Camden, became wealthy through shrewd investments in parking garages and billboards, and then endowed his fortune on a panoply of public causes, including education, sports, media, and his beloved Temple University. He died in a 2014 plane crash.
Together, the group form the second class inducted into the Business Hall of Fame, launched in 2016 by the Inquirer to recognize industry icons with distinguished records of civic engagement and professional achievement.
“This program recognizes leaders of our community who have contributed one way or another to the greatness of this city,” said H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, chairman of the nonprofit Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which owns the company that operates the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. “It’s a way to recognize we have a great city, and to recognize the people who make that happen.”
The Hall of Fame was inspired by Terrance C.Z. Egger, chief executive of Philadelphia Media Network and the publisher of the Inquirer and Daily News. Egger modeled the award on business halls of fame in other cities, including some created by the media outlets there.
“The idea was, what a good time to celebrate success and momentum in the city,” said Egger, who was inducted into the Northeast Ohio Business Hall of Fame in his previous role as publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
This year’s honorees will receive the awards at a dinner Nov. 9 at the Union League, 140 S. Broad St. Along with the five new Hall of Fame members, the event also will recognize five business leaders as “emerging icons.”
The Hall of Fame dinner is part of a broader business initiative of PMN to sponsor events and to build upon what Egger says are the company’s core competencies: to inform, influence, and convene the public.
“It’s not just immediate revenue it can generate,” Egger said. “It’s gathering people in our community and associating them with our work and our brand, and who we are and what we do, and in improving that relationship. You just never want to take your good customers or people in your community for granted, or vice versa.”
William K. Marimow, the former Inquirer editor who is currently vice president of strategic development for PMN, said each of this year’s winners “has distinguished themselves and their profession, and brought renown to the community.”
“If there are people of accomplishment and achievement who have contributed a lot to the region, both through their company and their civic involvement, it’s worthy of recognition,” Marimow said. “And who better to do this than the people who cover them, and the people that work with them?”
PMN editor and vice president Gabriel Escobar said bestowing awards on potential newsmakers is a proper role for media outlets.
“If you go back and look at the long history of daily newspapers, you’ll see that the newspaper was a presence in the community, either through sponsorships or other ventures, and this in many ways is consistent with that long tradition,” he said.
“We view these as interesting stories about interesting and prominent people in our community,” Escobar said. “That doesn’t mean that it in any way impedes us from covering aggressively, if needed, the people we have profiled.”
Egger led a small group of PMN executives and marketing staff in making the Hall of Fame selections. “We went through a process of creating a broad slate, and then kind of narrowed that slate,” he said.
The selection panel also consulted with the Hall of Famers who were inducted last year: John C. Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group; Brian L. Roberts, the Comcast Corp. chief executive; Joseph Neubauer, the former Aramark Corp. chief executive; and JoAnne Epps, Temple University provost. The inaugural class also included Ed Snider, cofounder of the Flyers, posthumously.
“You don’t want to get into comparisons of classes, but I think this year’s group is fantastic,” Egger said. “It’s diverse, it’s accomplished, it’s real.”
Eventually, the PMN publisher would like to assemble a Wall of Fame commemorating the winners.
“We haven’t gone there yet,” Egger said, “but I think down that road, that’s a possibility.”