The Pritzker family's fortune symbolizes a great American success story—a rags-to-riches tale of extremely profitable business deals ranging from manufacturing to the Hyatt Hotel chain.
Because of these lucrative business deals, six Pritzker family members are on the annual Forbes 400 list. Today, I will talk about the story behind the richest Pritzker, who lives in Chicago, Illinois.
Who is Penny Pritzker?
Penny Pritzker is a billionaire businesswoman who served as United States Secretary of Commerce during President Obama's second term. She was born in Chicago to Donald Pritzker and Sue Sandel. Donald was one of the co-founders of Hyatt Hotels, who moved his family from Chicago to California to expand the footprint of the Hyatt hotels.
Donald and Sue had three children, Penny, Tony, and J.B. Pritzker, who became the governor of Illinois in 2019. Donald Pritzker had a heart attack and died in 1972. He was 39 years old. Penny was 13 years old when her dad passed away.
She loves business.
Penny remembers visiting different hotels with her dad and checking on the cleanliness of the facilities. So, when her dad passed away, she wrote a letter to her grandfather A. N. Pritzker demanding that he talks business with her the same way he discusses business with men in the family.
In 1981, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Harvard College. Unfortunately, her mother fell out of a tow truck and lost her life a year later. To keep herself busy, she returned to school and earned her law degree and an MBA from Stanford University.
She created luxury senior living communities.
She worked in her family business, and in 1987 she created an upscale housing for seniors called Classic Residence by Hyatt, later renamed Vi Living. Four years later, she became Pritzker's non-hotel landholdings director. So, Penny created the Pritzker Realty Group, which developed shopping centers and apartment buildings.
Tremors in the Empire.
In 1995, Jay Pritzker, Penny's uncle, named Penny, his son Tom and his cousin Nick as successors to lead the company. However, after Jay Pritzker's death, a legal battle took place between family members, and in 2011, the trio sold the family assets to allow 11 cousins to receive a share of the empire.
She is a key fundraiser for Presidents Obama and Biden.
Penny and former president Barack Obama are friends. She helped finance his Senate and presidential campaign by hosting lavish fundraisers to encourage other wealthy people to donate money. According to New York Times, "Without Penny Pritzker, it is unlikely that Barack Obama ever would have been elected to the United States Senate or the presidency."
In 2013, she sold her interest in all of her holdings and resigned from her business responsibilities, such as the Hyatt Board of Directors and the Chicago Board of Education, to avoid a conflict of interest and serve as United States Secretary of Commerce during President Obama's second term.
Penny Pritzker is also listed as one of Biden's top fundraisers who helped raise over $100,000 for the campaign.
She has a lot of money and connections.
She is a powerful woman. If you want to make something happen in Chicago—whether getting your candidate elected or getting attention for your cause, you want Penny in your corner. In 2012, Chicago magazine named her one of the 100 most powerful Chicagoans.
She is a big believer in improving public education. That's why she serves on the Chicago Board of Education and is the past chair of the Chicago Public Education Fund. She also plays important roles at Harvard University and Skills for America's Future.