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Leslie and Abigail Wexner, founding benefactors of the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership (CPL), have pledged an additional gift of $6.3 million to support the Center’s research, teaching, and leadership development over the coming three years.
The new gift, the third three-year pledge to the Center by the Wexners since the year 2000, brings their total commitment to CPL to $19.8 million. In addition, the Wexners’ philanthropy underwrites the Wexner Israel Fellowship Program. Since 1989, this initiative has brought up to ten Israeli governmental officials to the Kennedy School each year for a one-year master’s degree. CPL recently assumed managerial responsibilities for the program.
“The Kennedy School is enormously grateful to Les and Abigail Wexner for their continuing generosity and public commitment in helping us build the Center for Public Leadership,” said David Ellwood, Dean of the Kennedy School. “Their support for this effort, along with their continuing support for the Wexner Israel Fellowship Program, is making an enormous difference in preparing leaders for the years ahead.”
David Gergen, Director of the Center for Public Leadership, added, “It has been a great personal privilege to work with Les and Abigail Wexner over the past half-dozen years, at the university and beyond. They are both leaders in their own right—people of vision, imagination, and keen dedication to advancing the quality of public life. They have been wonderful partners.”
Leslie H. Wexner, the grandson of Jewish immigrants from Russia, borrowed $5,000 from an aunt in 1963 and opened a retail clothing store in Columbus, Ohio. He called it The Limited because it provided only one line of goods: women’s sportswear. The idea caught on: today he is chairman, president, and CEO of Limited Brands, which has 3,500 stores nationwide and annual sales totaling nearly $10 billion.
Les Wexner serves on numerous boards, including that of his alma mater, Ohio State. He is also a member of the Kennedy School’s Visiting Committee. This spring he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Last week he was given the American Jewish Committee’s Herbert H. Lehman Centennial Leadership Award.
Abigail S. Wexner, a former attorney at a Wall Street law firm, is active in a variety of local and national philanthropic efforts. She is the chair of the Columbus Children’s Hospital and the Columbus Foundation, and is also the founder and chair of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence.
The Wexners’ gift to CPL was made through The Wexner Foundation, which is renowned for its programs that educate Jewish volunteer leaders in the history and traditions of Jewish life and support people preparing for the rabbinate and other professional positions in North American Jewish communities.
“Leadership development is of paramount importance to the future health of community and public life,” said Larry Moses, President of The Wexner Foundation. “Les and Abigail have been committed to this idea for nearly two decades. Their recent gift and the move of the Wexner Israel Fellowship Program under the Center’s umbrella reflect their continuing belief that the Center for Public Leadership is uniquely positioned to influence the way that leadership is studied, taught, and practiced.”
News of the additional Wexner gift was first disclosed at a recent tribute dinner in Cambridge on behalf of Warren Bennis, one of the foremost scholars in the field of leadership studies and chair of the CPL’s advisory board. In saluting the Wexners, who were present, Gergen and Betsy Myers, Executive Director of the Center, also thanked Mortimer B. Zuckerman and Catherine B. Reynolds for their separate gifts that established fellowship programs for students at Harvard’s three “public service” schools: the Graduate School of Education, the School of Public Health, and the Kennedy School of Government. CPL helps manage both fellowship programs.
“We could not be more thankful to these fine individuals who share our vision of helping prepare young men and women of the next generation to become effective, responsible leaders,” said Gergen.
Photos by Tom Fitzsimmons