The Power of Business: Lester Crown Prioritizes Philanthropy

At a youthful 88, Lester Crown, chairman of Henry Crown & Company, proves that good guys really can finish first.


He inherited an industrial empire from his up-by-the-bootstraps father, along with fine personal values like hard work and a love of family, community, religion and philanthropy. Crown gained enormous civic respect as he expanded and diversified family business interests into real estate, professional sports, and finance while raising seven children in Wilmette with his wife, Renee. The Crown family now includes 27 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, so it’s not surprising that Crown is thinking about the future.

How did you get your start?

I was lucky. I came straight into a great family business.

What do you love most about what you do?

Everything! I enjoy almost all the things I do because there is such a variety—corporate operations, relationships within the family in order to keep it together and provide for succession, civic involvements and charitable involvements. I particularly enjoy the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, having been on it almost since its inception, and I feel proud of the work it has done.

How do you define power?

I don’t consider it power; I consider it opportunity.

How are you wielding your power to make the world a better place?

Locally, in addition to the Civic Committee, I serve on the Council of Global Affairs and boards for the Lyric Opera, Ann & Robert Lurie Hospital and Northwestern University.

Who mentored you and who are you mentoring now?

My family, in both cases. We have lived through the golden age, the end of WWII up to 1995. It was a time of real opportunity, with a substantial lack of bias, in the best country in the world. Because we had the good fortune to succeed, we owe a great deal back to the society that allowed us to succeed. Naturally, we would like to see this continued for our kids and grandchildren.

My concern now is that we live in a very dangerous world today, but I don’t know how many people regard it as such. We can’t protect ourselves by ignoring it or being passive. There is a real battle going on between the free world and much of the rest of the world. My advice: Don’t be too complacent because of the advantages that we have been able to enjoy. Isolationism will not protect us in a global world.


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