Penny Sue Pritzker (born May 2, 1959) is an American billionaire businesswoman, entrepreneur and civic leader who served as the 38th United States Secretary of Commerce. She is the founder of PSP Capital Partners and Pritzker Realty Group. She is also co-founder of Artemis Real Estate Partners. She is a member of the Pritzker family.
In 2012, Chicago magazine named her one of the 100 most powerful Chicagoans. In October 2015, Forbes estimated her net worth at US $2.4 billion. In 2009, Forbes named Pritzker one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.
Pritzker was born in Chicago in 1959, the daughter of Sue (née Sandel) and Donald N. Pritzker (1932–1972). Pritzker is a member of the Pritzker family of Chicago, a wealthy and influential business family. Donald Pritzker was one of the co-founders of Hyatt hotels. Don moved the family to Palo Alto where business for the Hyatt Hotels began to grow. The family welcomed two more sons, Tony (born 1961) and J.B. (born 1965). Young Penny would accompany her father to the hotels and check the cleanliness of the ladies restrooms. In 1972, Don died suddenly of a heart attack when Penny was 13 years old. Following Don's death, Sue began battling depression, requiring Penny to at times care for her mother and her younger brothers. Penny attended Castilleja School until 1977. She earned an AB in Economics from Harvard College in 1981. The following year, Penny's mother died after falling out of the passenger side of a tow truck. Penny returned to school, earning both a JD and an MBA from Stanford University in 1985.
Pritzker family businesses
In 1987, she founded Classic Residence by Hyatt, now called Vi, which provides upscale housing for seniors as an alternative to nursing homes. The project struggled at first, losing $40 million in the first 18 months. The venture turned around after changes in marketing and management. In 1991, she created Pritzker Realty Group, and served as chairperson of Superior Bank of Chicago (until 1994). In 1998, she co-founded The Parking Spot, an off-site airport parking management, with CEO Martin Nesbitt. In 2005, she served as non-executive chairman of TransUnion (until 2012) In 2010, she co-founded Artemis Real Estate Partners, a real estate investment management company, with CEO Deborah Harmon. In 2012, she founded PSP Capital Partners.
In 1989, Pritzker's uncle, Jay Pritzker, purchased a 50% stake in Hinsdale, Illinois-based Superior Bank of Chicago from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which had taken over the bank when it failed. Penny Pritzker was Superior's chairperson from 1991–1994. In 1993, the bank "embarked on a business strategy of significant growth into subprime home mortgages," according to a report by the United States Treasury Department. In 2000, it became clear the bank was faltering. In the months leading up to 2001, the Pritzkers tried to work out a recapitalization plan. In July 2001, FDIC seized the bank after the recapitalization could not be resolved. Subsequently, the Pritzker family reached an agreement with regulators to pay $460 million.
According to the FDIC, by 2011, the uninsured depositors of Superior had each received 81% of their uninsured monies, in addition to the $100,000 each previously received of their insured amount. Industry experts have criticized the Pritzkers in regard to Superior. Consumer advocates and government investigators asserted Superior "engaged in unsound financial activities and predatory lending practices." Responding to the Wall Street Journal, Pritzker noted she had no ownership in the bank, either direct or indirect, and that the bank's reasons for failure "were complex, including changes in accounting practices, auditing failures, reversals in regulatory positions and general economic conditions." She said the bank complied with "fair lending laws" and ethical business practices. A 2001 Business Week article described the bank's other owner, Alvin Dworman, as the more dominant partner in its operation as a result of agreements made by Jay Pritzker. Quoted in the New York Times, a Pritzker family friend observed Pritzker was trapped in a deal of her uncle's making: "Penny got sucked into this…this was really the legacy of Jay" Jay Pritzker died in 1999.
Leadership and dissolution
Jay Pritizker retired in 1995, leaving his position as head of the Pritzker businesses. He named three successors: his son Tom, his cousin Nick, and Penny. The three were to oversee the Pritzker family assets. Jay's death in 1999 preceded multiple lawsuits from other Prittzker family members challenging Tom, Nick, and Penny's control of the businesses. Penny's brothers joined in one of the lawsuits. In 2001, Tom, Nick, and Penny decided to sell family assets to allow eleven cousins to receive a share, dissolving the family's business ties. Un-entangling the families business interests took nearly a decade. The family sold its controlling stake in the Marmon Group to Bershire Hathaway for $4.5 billion in 2008.
Government and political involvement
Pritzker's friendship with Barack Obama and his family dates back to the 1990s when he was a professor at the University of Chicago. Obama and his family were frequent guests at Pritzker's Lake Michigan vacation home. Pritzker became a major fundraiser for Obama during the 2008 democratic primary and raised millions overall for his White House bid. She served as the national finance chair of President Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. A campaign under her direction reached out to small donors. On July 2, 2008, Pritzker and her husband hosted a $28,500 per plate fundraiser for Obama's campaign in Chicago with Warren Buffett and his wife, and Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett.
On November 20, 2008, CNN reported that Pritzker was Barack Obama's top choice for Commerce Secretary, quoting "multiple" unnamed sources. However, it was later reported that Pritzker took herself out of the running. According to the Chicago Tribune, she withdrew her name from consideration "due to obligations to her family, for whom she was still overseeing billions in assets, and the financial crisis, which was putting some of those assets at risk."
Pritzker was a member of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. She also served on the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. She was national co-chair of Obama for America 2012.
Pritzker has contributed to numerous campaigns. Among the recipients have been the presidential campaigns and exploratory committees, including those of George W. Bush, Joe Lieberman, Bill Bradley, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain (2000), Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.
She was also on the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank focused on world affairs and U.S. foreign policy.
Secretary of Commerce
Pritzker was nominated as United States Secretary of Commerce by President Barack Obama on May 2, 2013. Later that month, on May 23, the Senate held its confirmation hearing which covered a variety of topics. Although Pritzker's family business dealings had been a target of Republican criticism when Obama announced her nomination, only three questions at the hearing related to her family. Pritzker was confirmed by the full Senate on June 25, by a vote of 97 to 1. Pritzker was sworn in as Secretary on June 26, 2013.
Civic and philanthropic activities
Pritzker is involved in public education. She was a member of the Chicago Board of Education and is past chair of the Chicago Public Education Fund. Pritzker became a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers in 2002.
Pritzker was Advisory Board Chair of Skills for America's Future (SAF), a policy initiative of the Aspen Institute. Pritzker is a former chair of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
On March 26, 2014, Elle honored Pritzker, with others, at the Italian Embassy in the United States during its annual “Women in Washington Power List.”
In the 1980s, Pritzker completed her first Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. Pritzker trained for six months and ultimately finished the race in 12 hours. In addition to competing in triathlons, Pritzker has also run marathons. Pritzker is married to ophthalmologist Bryan Traubert. The couple has two children.