Pritzker to Serve on Presidential Board

Penny Pritzker as been chosen to serve on a new advisory body, the President’s Recovery Act Board.

WASHINGTON — Penny Pritzker, President Obama’s initial choice for commerce secretary and co-chairman of his inaugural, believes business leaders should prepare for a new era when the private sector actively participates in federal economic policy-making.

This story first appeared in the January 29, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Pritzker, who turned down the commerce secretary job because of business responsibilities at home in Chicago, has been chosen to serve on a new advisory body, the President’s Recovery Act Board. Details of the board are slim at this stage, but Pritzker hinted at how the board would operate in an exclusive interview with WWD.

“The President recognizes how important it is to have private sector input. It’s important to him, and he’s asked me to do this,” said Pritzker, interviewed in the Park Hyatt Hotel, the Washington flagship of her family’s 350-hotel chain. “Managing a business prepares you to manage in different arenas at the same time.”

Her goal is to reach out to business leaders nationwide to work on programs to address America’s economic problems. “We want to adopt Warren Buffett’s approach to business,” said Pritzker, 46, who plans to be in Washington at least once a month to work with the Obama administration. Her aim is “to delegate to people who are experts in their area, just as we did in the campaign where we gave business leaders the tools, an agreed-upon objective, and judged them on their performance.’’

While the lineup of the panel hasn’t been revealed, among the business leaders who worked with Pritzker were Charlie Rivkin, president and chief executive officer of Wild Brain Inc. and California finance co-chairman during the Obama campaign; James Crown, who serves on the board of General Dynamics Corp.; John W. Rogers Jr., ceo of Ariel Capital Management LLC, which oversees $16 billion in investments; Nicole Avant, the daughter of Motown Records chairman Clarence Avant, and Eileen Donahoe, wife of eBay’s new ceo, John Donahoe.

Since taking over as chairman of credit reporting agency TransUnion in 2005, Pritzker, who ranks on Fortune’s list of America’s 400 wealthiest people, has recruited a new team to move the company toward a more global approach in helping businesses build credit and promote economic growth and development. As ceo of Pritzker Realty Group, Pritzker has overseen all of the Pritzker family’s non-hotel real estate investments for 20 years.

The Chicago-based business executive said the broad structure of the recovery board will be unveiled next month, along with more details of the President’s plan to rebuild the economy. President Obama announced the creation of the board in November, naming Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, as chairman and Austan Goolsbee, a key economic adviser during the campaign, to serve as staff director and chief economist. Goolsbee will act as the liaison between the board and the Obama administration.