When he met with Gov. Tom Corbett last July, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest said the governor told him right away he wanted him to be on Temple’s board.
Lenfest, a local media mogul who is business partners with longtime trustee Lewis Katz, was approved by the board as the governor’s appointment at the General Assembly meeting on Oct. 8, becoming the second owner of Interstate General Media to serve on Temple’s highest governing body.
Though he did not graduate from the university, Lenfest has donated to Temple multiple times. He and his wife, Marguerite Lenfest, provided the initial funding for the Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Scholarship, which is given to students in the School of Media and Communication to help pay for internships, independent study or study abroad programs.
Lenfest said he has always admired how Temple gives opportunities for needy students to get a quality education.
“Students go there because they want an education,” Lenfest said. “Not because their parents went there.”
For the coming year, the board appointed Lenfest to the Alumni Relations and Development Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee. He said his experience best fits those committees due to their role in raising money from Temple alumni.
“I’ve been active in fundraising my whole life,” Lenfest said.
According to tax records, the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation, managed by Lenfest’s son, donated more than $116,000 to Temple scholarships between July 2010 and June 2011. The Lenfest Foundation donated nearly $750,000 to scholarship programs at Penn State in the same time period.
In addition to his career in media, Lenfest has had experience as a trustee at other universities. He served on the boards at Washington and Lee University, where he spent his undergraduate years, and Columbia University. He is a graduate of the latter’s law school. Lenfest said his time at Columbia gave him valuable experience and ideas he can use on Temple’s board.
While on the board at Columbia, Lenfest said he led an effort to mobilize its alumni, who gave back more after the university changed its alumni fundraising strategy. Lenfest said Columbia’s board built up its alumni association so that each school and college no longer had a separate identity, but all alumni were under one umbrella.
“Alumni were considered Columbia graduates, not graduates of their own college,” Lenfest said. “Temple has a great opportunity to do the same thing.”
Lenfest’s career was built in the cable television and communications industries, where he was the head of several media companies, including Lenfest Communications, which was sold to AT&T in 1999, then Comcast in 2000.
Since selling his company, Lenfest said he has dedicated himself to charity. According to the philanthropy tracking website Glasspockets, Lenfest, who was a billionaire after he sold his company, currently has an estimated net worth of $430 million. In 2009, the Inquirer reported that Lenfest had given away nearly $800 million.
In 2012, Lenfest and Katz led a group of investors who purchased the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. Lenfest said he had not met Katz until they became partners with Interstate General Media.
Lenfest and Katz’s new partnership on Temple’s board came two days before they both filed a lawsuit against their own company and the publisher of the Inquirer in a dispute over the firing of Inquirer editor Bill Marimow. Publisher Robert Hall and his lawyers sought a dismissal of the lawsuit, claiming it did not have approval by the company’s board.
Lenfest declined to discuss the case, which he said is currently in litigation.
Though he’s had decades of experience in the media, Lenfest said he has no idea where the industry will go in the future or how it should be taught at Temple, where the School of Media and Communication recently hired Dean David Boardman, a former editor at the Seattle Times, who has little academic experience.
“In truth, the media field is changing so much, I’m no longer in touch,” Lenfest said. “I was a cable television operator. I don’t think I’d be any help anymore. The media belongs to the world of the young.”
Joe Gilbride can be reached at email@example.com.