We recently lost three extraordinary Cleveland leaders from whom we can learn a great deal: Mort Mandel, Steve Minter and Norm Krumholz. I had the great privilege of knowing, working with and learning from each of them.
At a time when our country is deeply divided, and our city and region are charting a new future, it is worth noting that Mort, Steve and Norm were the kind of leaders we need to bridge divides and rally us to greater heights.
Mort Mandel was chairman and CEO of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation, which gave deeply and widely to Cleveland’s cultural, health care, educational and Jewish institutions.
In 1940, with an investment of $900, brothers Joseph, Jack and Morton Mandel formed Premier Automotive Supply in Cleveland, later known as Premier Industrial Corp. They bought the furniture, fixtures and inventory remnants of a small auto parts business from their uncle, Jacob Mandel, and transformed it into a public global distributor of industrial and electronic parts that merged with a British company for $3 billion 56 years later.
When I became president and CEO of the Centers for Families and Children, we purchased and renovated Premier’s headquarters in Midtown. I invited Mort to speak to our more than 300 employees so that they could appreciate the unique history of our new workplace. They were transfixed as he shared his philosophy about living a life with meaning, purpose and commitment.
Steve Minter, the oldest of eight children in a family that also emphasized service and education, worked three jobs to put himself through Baldwin Wallace College. One of them was washing dishes in the dining hall, where he met his wife, Dolly, who was working as a waitress. Although interracial marriage was still illegal in 22 states, they were married in 1961. He earned a master’s degree in social work from Case Western University and within a few years became the first African American and youngest director of the Cuyahoga County Welfare Department. Later, he took on state and national leadership positions in human services and education and in 1984 became the first African American leader of a community foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, where he quadrupled the endowment to $1.5 billion.
Under his leadership, the Foundation supported neighborhood revitalization, public school improvement and the redevelopment of Playhouse Square, and were early funders of AIDS public health initiatives. After retiring, Steve spent 15 years as executive-in-residence and fellow at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.
Norm Krumholz, Cleveland’s planning director under Mayors Carl Stokes, Ralph Perk and Dennis Kucinich, and professor of Urban Studies at Cleveland State University, was known throughout the country as a passionate advocate for what he called “equity planning.”
Long before city leaders were talking about inclusive economic growth, Norm understood that most urban neighborhoods, even those nearby reviving downtowns, were characterized by high poverty, low social mobility and growing income, health, education and wealth disparities. Norm advanced the principle that urban planning should build equity for low-income residents of disadvantaged communities. His 1990 book, “Making Equity Planning Work,’’ is considered a classic.
When I traveled the country as president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, as soon as I mentioned that I was from Cleveland, urban planners didn’t ask me about Cleveland Clinic or the Cleveland Orchestra — they asked me if I knew Norm Krumholz.
These extraordinary leaders raised the bar for all of us. As we chart Cleveland’s future, their humility, empathy and inclusive vision should be our guideposts.