If the 20th century hotel pioneer Jay Pritzker hadn’t been such an below-the-radar businessman, the Hyatt hotel chain might now bear his family’s name. That would make it more obvious why the Pritzkers rank with the Waltons, Mars and Kochs as one of America’s wealthiest families. With a cumulative net worth of $29 billion, the Pritzkers are also major philanthropists. Chicago has been a traditional recipient of their bounty, but today’s Pritzker giving spans the country, and indeed the globe.
Descended from Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, the Pritzkers epitomize the old dream of making it in America. Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, a series of ambitious family patriarchs established the family first as lawyers, then as investors in real estate, hospitality, industry, with many interests besides. When Jay passed away in 1999, the Pritzkers followed the footsteps of fabulously wealthy clans throughout history, entering into a protracted feud to divvy up the family fortune.
That drama went on for over a decade. In the end, 11 Pritzkers walked away with over a billion each. Today, the Pritzkers are a loosely associated network of siblings and cousins pursuing everything from traditional family business interests to investing, film, Buddhist spirituality and public service.
In a break from Jay’s time, the family is no longer a cohesive unit. But philanthropy unites many prominent Pritzkers, and we’ll shed some light on what they’re doing here.
For a more in-depth look at the family’s turbulent history after Jay Pritzker’s death, see this 2003 piece from Vanity Fair, this 2005 article in the Chicago Tribune, and this 2011 article, also from the Tribune. There are a lot of Pritzkers, and readers may find this family tree from the Wall Street Journal useful (despite some outdated net worth figures). The net worth numbers in this article come from 2016 estimates by Forbes.
Regular readers of Inside Philanthropy will notice that we write often about giving by various Pritzkers. Yet even we can get confused by the maze of family foundations and the wide range of causes that Pritzkers support. So we thought it'd be useful to lay out the basics in one place, along with links to the two dozen articles we've written about Pritzker philanthropy so far.
As secretary of commerce under President Obama since 2013, Penny is the most prominent of the Pritzkers. Yet even before that role, she was a major player. Before her relatives went their separate ways, her uncle Jay favored Penny to lead the family enterprise. Her business dealings, as chair of Superior Bank in particular, paved the way for a post as national finance chair for President Obama’s 2008 campaign, and then on to her current post. Her net worth is estimated at $2.4 billion.
For the most part, Penny Pritzker conducts her philanthropy through the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation (she’s married to Bryan Traubert, an ophthalmologist). Operating on assets of over $200 million, Pritzker Traubert gives to education, health and the arts, with an emphasis on Chicago. Grant sizes range across the board, from several thousand to several million.
Penny Pritzker’s education philanthropy builds on a history as a member of the Chicago Board of Education and chair of the Chicago Public Education Fund. Her giving focuses on charter schools for K-12 students, and improving student access to arts is a recent priority. The Noble Network of Charter Schools has received large, repeated grants. Pritzker Traubert’s health-related grants go toward efforts to curtail childhood obesity, and in both cases, Chicago is the place to be.
When Penny finishes up her stint in Washington, we wouldn't be surprised to see her and Bryan ramp up their philanthropy. So stay tuned.
- Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation: Chicago Grants
- Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation: Grants for Public Health
- This Chicago Power Couple is Deep into Charters
- Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation Encourages Chicago to Take the Field
Like his older sister Penny, J.B. Pritzker is a funder actively concerned with equity issues. Following his father and uncles, Jay Robert Pritzker (not to be confused with his late uncle, Jay Pritzker) took up a business career. In the 1990s, he founded the Pritzker Group, a private investment firm, and grew his princely inheritance to the even vaster sum of $3.4 billion.
In politics, J.B. is a longtime backer of the Democratic Party, co-chairing Hillary Clinton’s 2008 primary run and supporting Barack Obama in the general. This year, he’s a big Clinton donor again, emphasizing the need to keep that other billionaire well away from the White House.
As we've reported, J.B. Pritzker is a national leader when it comes to using philanthropy to push for early childhood education. In fact, it's hard to think of a single individual donor who's done more lately to advance this issue. Through the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation (specifically his Children’s Initiative), he's given millions to organizations like the First Five Years Fund and the Ounce of Prevention, including another $5 million to the Ounce earlier this month.
In an interview last year, J.B. told us that early childhood suffers from chronic under-investment, and his smaller Pritzker Early Childhood Foundation (now sunsetting) was created to remedy that. Across the board, his early childhood funding puts a lot of value in research, a key driving force behind the field’s recent rise to prominence. The Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood Development at the University of Chicago is another example of J.B.’s funding style.
Beyond early childhood, J.B. Pritzker gave a whopping $100 million last year to the Northwestern University School of Law, prompting a name change. He is also active around Jewish causes and served as chairman of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.
- Big Money, Small Kids: A Billionaire Steps Up Yet Again for Early Childhood
- Which Pritzker Just Kicked In $25M For Early Childhood Education?
- The Billionaire Urging Philanthropy to Make Early Education a (Much) Bigger Priority
- Pritzker's $100 Million the Largest Ever Gift to Any Law School
- Early Childhood Education Funding: Chicago
- Meet the Funders Behind the First Five Years Fund
- A Funder Arrives on the Early Childhood Education Scene in a Very Big Way
- Hey, Billionaires: Here's a Shovel-Ready Plan for Changing Kids' Lives
Not to be outdone by his sister and brother, Donald Pritzker’s middle son Anthony engages in a variety of philanthropic activities, along with his wife Jeanne. Like his siblings, Anthony took up a career in business, working in a number of executive positions including at the family-owned Marmon Group (now owned by Berkshire Hathaway). Today, Anthony is a partner at the Pritzker Group beside his brother J.B. His net worth is estimated at $3.3 billion.
Though the Pritzkers are rightly associated with Chicago, Anthony and Jeanne have taken up residence in a palatial Los Angeles home. Much of Anthony Pritzker’s charitable giving (through the Anthony Pritzker Family Foundation) benefits California causes.
The environment is a big issue. Anthony’s on the board of Santa Monica environmental organization Heal the Bay, and he has given many millions to UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. A $15 million gift in 2013 funded policy research on urban sustainability, a topic that’s only getting hotter as temperatures rise and droughts drag on. On top of his environmental giving, Anthony is an active funder of L.A. arts, colleges, private schools and Jewish organizations. His wife Jeanne founded and chairs the nonprofit Foster Care Counts.
We started with Jay Pritzker’s brother Donald’s children, because in many ways. they’re the most philanthropically prominent. But with so much money to spare, almost every Pritzker gives somewhere. Jay Pritzker’s eldest son Thomas Pritzker heads up the family business. He’s CEO of the Pritzker Organization, managing the business assets the family holds in common. He also serves as executive chairman of Hyatt Hotels, and is the only Pritzker still directly involved with the company. He’s worth $3.1 billion.
Thomas is one director of the simply named Pritzker Foundation, a philanthropic vehicle that pools certain family resources (not as common as before). Other directors include his sister Gigi Pritzker, Penny Pritzker’s husband Bryan Traubert, and second cousin Nicholas J. Pritzker.
Thomas’s giving through the Pritzker Foundation has a natural affinity with Chicago, including a $15 million gift last year to the University of Chicago to fund a series of labs tackling big urban problems. Other giving centers on education, specifically universities like UChicago and Tufts, as well as a good number of Chicago museums. Despite the cachet of its name, this funder flies below the radar and only contributes to pre-selected organizations.
Outside the larger family foundation, Thomas and his wife Margot give through the separate Margot & Thomas Pritzker Family Foundation (complicated, we know). The Art Institute of Chicago is a major recipient here, as well as many Chicago-area schools. Another interesting recent grantee is Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
Two years Thomas’s junior, John Pritzker also sought to add to his fortune in the world of business. Starting at Hyatt, he co-founded a number of companies, including Ticketmaster, before returning to hospitality via his investment firm Geolo Capital. Estimated net worth: $2.3 billion.
John conducts his philanthropy through the Lisa & John Family Fund. It’s more modest than some of his relatives’ undertakings, but its grantmaking covers the Pritzker basics: health and education, the arts, and Jewish causes. Like his cousin Anthony, John isn’t 100 percent Chicago: his family fund is headquartered in the Bay Area, as are many of its grantees.
Notables include the University of California San Francisco (benefiting the Benioff Children's Hospital), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco.
And now we come to the clan’s more openly eclectic members. Jay Pritzker’s youngest son, Daniel, is a musician and film director who co-founded the Chicago jazz band Sonia Dada, where he’s a guitarist. Daniel is also worth $2.1 billion, giving him full freedom to pursue the arts without recourse to a musician’s more mercenary activities. In 2010, Daniel Pritzker released Louis, a biopic about Louis Armstrong. He’s currently working on a feature about Buddy Bolden.
In the philanthropic world, Daniel is president of the Jay Pritzker Foundation, a grantmaking organization founded in 2002 to honor the late family leader. Major gift recipients include Tufts University (the Pritzker Challenge at Tufts raises money toward scholarships for underprivileged students) and Providence Saint Mel School in Chicago. Smaller grants have gone toward jazz and other assorted arts.
Jay’s final child, Gigi (born Jean), is a Hollywood filmmaker. She co-founded the Culver City-based production company Odd Lot Entertainment, which has on its roster films like Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman; Drive, starringRyan Gosling; Ender’s Game with Harrison Ford; and Johnny Depp's critically panned Mortdecai.
Gigi’s net worth of $2.4 billion supports her charitable giving, much of it conducted through the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation. The Chicago Children’s Museum has received large sums from Pritzker Pucker. Education is another priority, with giving at both the K-12 and collegiate levels.
Born James Pritzker, Jennifer is the first child of Jay Pritzker’s brother Robert and the world’s only known transgender billionaire. With a net worth of $1.77 billion, she’s also the one Pritzker with military experience. During her career in the U.S. Army, conducted when she still identified as James, she earned the rank of colonel.
Jennifer conducts her business through Tawani Enterprises Inc., which serves primarily as a vehicle for real estate investments. The name is an amalgam of the names of Jennifer’s three children, Tal, Andrew and William. The Tawani Foundation, founded in 1995, is her main vehicle for philanthropy.
As one might expect, military and transgender causes dominate Jennifer Pritzker’s giving. Tawani’s grantmaking “supports preservation of military heritage, conservation and preservation of historical sites, health and wellness and landmark gifts and grants.” A lot of resources go toward preserving the historical records of specific units in the U.S. military.
Earlier this year, Jennifer Pritzker gave $2 million to the University of British Columbia to establish a chair for transgender studies. This builds on another grant of $1.35 million to the University of California’s Palm Center to study how transgender people fare in the military. Jennifer’s philanthropy also includes $25 million in 2013 to Norwich University, the school that pioneered ROTC.
- Which Chicago Billionaire is Giving Big for Transgender Studies?
- Youth Programs Are Great, But Having a Place to Do Them Is Even Better
Jennifer’s younger sister Linda has a net worth of $1.7 billion, but she doesn’t involve herself in the family business. Instead, hers is the spiritual path of Tibetan Buddhism. Going by the name Lama Tsomo, she founded the Namchak Foundation, offering Buddhist meditation practice and retreats. She is also an occasional donor to liberal political causes.
As a founding board member of the Democracy Alliance in the early 2000s, Rachel Pritzker joined other donors to win hearts and minds for the progressive cause. Later, she moved away from electoral politics to found the Pritzker Innovation Fund. As we reported in a piece on Rachel’s work, its mission is to find innovative solutions to “wicked problems,” mainly to do with climate and energy.
The Pritzker Innovation Fund is guided by a strong belief in the power of new ideas and research to achieve change. Rachel Pritzker’s approach to grantmaking mimics, in a way, conservative efforts to bankroll policy thought leadership.
One major grant recipient is the Breakthrough Institute, a think tank Rachel has long been involved with, that focuses on addressing global environmental problems. She is also an adherent of “ecomodernism,” arguing that economic growth need not be at odds with environmental stewardship.
Younger sister to Jennifer and Linda, Karen Pritzker is an investor and writer who also operates LaunchCapital LLC, a venture capital fund. She is also one of the wealthiest individual Pritzkers, with a net worth estimated at $4 billion.
Over the years, Karen has disbursed major gifts to a variety of causes. Notably, along with her husband Michael Vlock, she gave $20 million to the Yale University School of Medicine, $5 million to Teach for America, and $1.5 million to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. She is also president of the Seedlings Foundation, a healthcare-oriented nonprofit organization based in Connecticut.
Liesel Pritzker Simmons
At age 32, Liesel is the youngest child of Robert Pritzker (deceased since 2011). A former child actress, she played the leading role in the 1995 film A Little Princess and appeared in the movie Air Force One. In 2002, as the family inheritance drama ground on, she sued various relatives, including her father, for allegedly moving money around that was supposed to be in trust for Liesel and her brother Matthew. The youngest cousins eventually received about $500 million each in family assets.
And she hasn’t been idle with those resources. Along with her mother Irene, she founded the IDP Foundation in 2008 on a $50 million endowment. The initials stand for “innovation, development, progress,” and they represent a mother-daughter team that’s making a foray into international funding, with a big focus on backing low-cost private schools in Africa.
In addition, Liesel heads the Blue Haven Initiative, an impact investing outfit, and Young Ambassadors for Opportunity, an organization aiming to increase young professional involvement in microfinance for the developing world.
- IDP Foundation: Grants for Global Development
- Into Africa: A Funder Embraces a New Way to Educate Some of the Poorest Kids on Earth
Nicholas J. Pritzker
Nicholas is the son of Jack Nicholas Pritzker, the younger brother of Jay Pritzker’s father Abram. He made his career in the family business, serving as head of new development for Hyatt hotels before retiring in 2009. He’s worth about $1.42 billion.
Nicholas is known most widely in the philanthropic world as co-founder of the Libra Foundation. Besides Liesel Pritzker’s IDP Foundation, Libra is the family’s only other avenue for global development philanthropy. From assets currently worth approximately $200 million, the foundation awards about half its grants to organizations in Illinois and California, with the rest benefitting the developing world.
Human rights and the environment are key themes, here. We’ve noted Libra’s willingness to fund newcomers to international work, in addition to big stalwarts like Amnesty International. Libra has adopted an intersectional approach to global development, funding projects that link human rights (particularly women’s) with environmental justice. Take care not to confuse this Libra Foundation with two others of the same name, one in maine (established by Elizabeth B. Noyce) and one that gives for human services out of Florida.