The Heinz family is rebooting its foundation's leadership following a mess under the previous president. After weathering a controversy over fracking in which the philanthropy appeared too cozy with the oil and gas industry, the Heinz Endowments have appointed longtime associate and former staffer Grant Oliphant as the new president.
The Heinz Endowments, the union of two family endowments and one of the largest philanthropies in Pennsylvania, announced that Oliphant would take over as president starting in June. Oliphant was actually up for the job back in 2007, but was passed over for a foundation outsider, surprising many. He left to take over the Pittsburgh Foundation, which he has run since 2008.
Oliphant is returning to the endowments in the aftermath of a rough patch that ended with key Heinz leaders either being ousted or resigning, including then-President Robert Vagt, who stepped down.
The trouble began with the launch of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, of which Heinz was a founding partner, and which supports voluntary best practices for the shale gas drilling industry that's exploded across the region. Other partners in the center—Shell and Chevron. Members of the environmental community slammed the center and the foundation, which has backed clean water and other environmental efforts.
The fray was worsened by the fact that Vagt holds a ton of stock in and sits on the board of gas pipeline company Kinder Morgan.
A management shakeup followed, which many speculated was engineered by board member and environmentalist Andre Heinz, the son of board chair Teresa Heinz Kerry. Mrs. Kerry told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette amid the controversy in October that the board had never authorized the creation of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, and more recently said it was the result of “misunderstandings.”
That reinforces the message that the appointment of Oliphant, intended or not, seems to send: The shenanigans are over.
Before moving to the Pittsburgh Foundation, Oliphant, 53, worked for the Heinz Endowments for about a decade, but as far back as 1988 has worked with the family. The return marks a step up from a trust of about a billion at the Pittsburgh Foundation to close to $1.5 billion at Heinz. The former will begin a national search for a new president.
As for Robert Vagt, don’t worry—he’s going to be fine. He’s the new chairman of oil and gas company Rice Energy.