Businessman Donates His Millions To Educational Projects

By Josh Richman

Published November 10, 2006, issue of November 10, 2006.
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The $25 million gift that Lorry Lokey gave this summer to Technion-Israel Institute of Technology sounds impressive. But it’s even more impressive that Lokey — founder and chairman of Business Wire — makes gifts of similar sizes to educational institutions on a regular basis.

Lokey, 79, estimated that he has given away more than $325 million over the past 20 years; by the time he’s 90, he said, “it’ll come close to half a billion.” Education is like “a bottomless pit,” Lokey said, “but it needs all the help it can get… It can always be improved, it can always be enlarged, there’s so much that can be done.”

At Technion, Lokey’s gift will help fund the Lorry I. Lokey Technion Life Sciences and Engineering Disciplinary Center, which will be headed by Aaron Ciechanover, who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Lokey, who said he’ll probably increase his commitment to Technion next year, said Ciechanover thrilled him on a recent visit: “He’s a great guy, his feet don’t stop moving — I was impressed with his enthusiasm, and I loved seeing the campus and what they’re doing there. It seemed to me to fit every denominator I want when I make a grant to education.”

The Haifa-based university was already blessed with strong departments in both engineering and basic science, said Ciechanover — not to mention a medical faculty that includes two Nobel laureates. “Combining the two to work on subjects none can carry out independently will propel Technion to new heights, and has become possible due to the gift of Lorry Lokey,” Ciechanover said. “With his sharp eyes he was able to see the excellent components and provided the glue to bring them together.”

The list of major educational projects that Lokey has funded is long: Consider the Lorry Lokey Laboratory for Chemistry and Biology at Stanford University, his alma mater ($20 million, atop $50 million he gave the university at large); the University of Oregon’s Lorry I. Lokey Laboratories, a 30,000-square-foot nanoscience research center ($10 million, out of at least $32 million he has given the university); the Lorry I. Lokey School of Business at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., his daughter’s alma mater ($15 million of the $18 million he has given the college); th e Lokey International Academy of Jewish Studies at the Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa, providing Israel experience programs for youth and adults from around the world (more than $12 million), and the Lorry I. Lokey Media and Technology Center at Evergreen Valley High School in San Jose, Calif. ($2.5 million, believed to be the largest private grant to a public school district in California’s history).

Other gifts have included $20 million to Santa Clara University for a new library and a scholarship fund; $11 million as lead donor for a new Peninsula Jewish Community Center complex in Redwood City, Calif.; $4.5 million for major renovations at Camp Swig, a Reform summer camp in Saratoga, Calif.; and $750,000 for a new library and computer labs at the Alameda Elementary School in Portland, Ore., which he attended as a child.

Much of Lokey’s giving is via a supporting foundation he created with the San Francisco Bay Area’s Jewish Community Endowment Fund. “He invests in people and is extremely generous, while requiring accountability from grantees,” said the fund’s executive director, Phyllis Cook. “I have seen him make possible projects that would never have come into being without his early support.”

Born and raised in Portland, Ore., Lokey was a features editor of Pacific Stars & Stripes in Tokyo in 1946, before earning a journalism degree while editing The Stanford Daily in 1949. He worked as a night wire editor for United Press in Portland and then as a reporter for the Daily News in Longview, Wash., before moving to the business world — first as Western Highway Institute administrator in San Francisco, then as a spokesman for Shell Development Co. across the bay in Emeryville, and then as General Electric’s Western news bureau supervisor back in San Francisco.

In 1961, he launched a media-relations company called Business Wire in San Francisco. Starting with one part-time employee, a closet-sized office, seven clients and little more than a dozen Bay Area media outlets, Lokey built Business Wire into an international giant with about 500 employees in 30 bureaus worldwide serving more than 25,000 clients by sending news releases, regulatory filings and other content to more than 30,000 American media and financial concerns, and thousands more around the globe.

Lokey remains Business Wire’s chairman but sold the company early in 2006 to Berkshire Hathaway, the company controlled by investor Warren Buffett — the world’s second-richest man. The deal’s terms weren’t made public, but the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Business Wire had been appraised at about $600 million in 2005, and Lokey and his three daughters owned 70% of it.

But most of that money never was destined to stay within the family, Lokey said.

“So many of these people that have real money — and right now, real money is a billion or more — they’re just not uncorking the way they should,” Lokey said. “There’s a disease in this country… that you’ve got to leave it to the family and kids, and this ruins more families and kids than you can shake a stick at… I wish these families that are loaded would take a look at what they could accomplish.”

Currently a resident of Atherton, Calif., Lokey has a second home in Hawaii, but that’s among his few luxuries — he even flies coach most of the time — and his daughters have more than enough to keep themselves and their families comfortable, he said. Now all of them can watch university buildings rise from the family fortune, and watch graduation ceremonies for students who otherwise might never have been able to attend college.

“It really makes you feel good,” Lokey said.

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