William L. Mack, W’61, first made his own way in real estate in 1964 in north New Jersey. He and his family bought 5.5 acres, set up a trailer office in the Meadowlands and began developing warehouses. How far he has come since can be measured in the $6 billion in assets that the firm he founded, AREA Property Partners, has managed, or the 30.8 million square feet of property owned by Mack-Cali, the REIT where he serves as chairman of the board. Or it can be gauged by the honors he earned from his alma mater. Mack was elected to Penn’s Board of Trustees in 1997. He earned the Joseph Wharton Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008 and the Dean’s Medal— Wharton’s highest honor—in 2009. And now he takes over as chairman of the Board of Overseers. We sat down with Mack in AREA’s offices overlooking Columbus Circle in Manhattan to discuss his next level of commitment to the School and his integrated, interdisciplinary vision for education in general.
WHARTON MAGAZINE: You are only the fourth chairman of Wharton’s Board of Overseers. How do you plan to leave your imprint?
WILLIAM L. MACK: I think that the people who have come before me, and particularly, Jon M. Huntsman Sr., W’59, HON’96, and all of the preceding deans and Tom Robertson, have put the Wharton School on an excellent course. What we look at for the future at the Wharton School are things like distance learning and how do we evolve that to be the best that we can make it, how do we keep our facilities in top-notch condition and add buildings that are necessary, how do we expand our international program—as well as how do we deal with technology and with Wharton | San Francisco and have more interaction between [the two campuses]?
Wharton has emphasized finance in the past. The growth of finance has slowed down to a trickle; it’s still very important, but we must emphasize technology and health care, as well relations between business and government, which are very important as we go forward. As well, in the short term, with Dean Robertson announcing his [stepping down] next June, it will be very, very important to get a new dean on board. I’m looking forward to the new dean but am very sad about Tom leaving. A new person is always going to arrive with new ideas, and it’s going to be a big challenge to fill that spot properly.
WM: How much will you take from what the chairmen before you have done?
MACK: They’ve all been great in their times, and they’ve all been outstanding citizens of the world and have added greatly through their time and resources to the University. They are very heavy shoes to fill, having these extraordinary people come before me. But we’ll try to do our best.
WM: You have already been so active, even hands-on, with undergrad financial aid, endowed professorships, the Samuel Zell and Robert Lurie Real Estate Center, and particularly, the William and Phyllis Mack Institute for Innovation Management. What have been the highlights so far for you?
MACK: The highlights of my involvement have been the ability to participate in the development of the campus. I first became a trustee after being head of the Wharton Undergraduate Executive Board in 1997. And when I was recruited by the then-chairman, P. Roy Vagelos, C’50, HON’99, he said to me, “You’ll become a trustee, and you’ll head the Facilities and Campus Planning Committee.” And I was rather taken back by it because I wasn’t even a trustee. It’s been very exciting to see all the development that we have accomplished over the last 15 years with two great presidents that I served under: Judy Rodin, CW’66, HON’04, and then Dr. Amy Gutmann, HOM’04.
|What Is the Board of Overseers?|
|An important component of Wharton’s volunteer leadership structure since 1973, the Board of Overseers helps to inform the ongoing priorities and future direction of the School overall. Robert M. Levy, WG’74, partner, chairman and chief investment officer at Harris Associates LP, continues to serve as vice chair. With his ascendance this spring, William L. Mack, W’61, becomes only the fourth chair. The previous three were: Reginald H. Jones, W’39, HON’80 (1973-1987); Saul P. Steinberg, W’59 (1987-1999); and Jon M. Huntsman Sr., W’59, HON’96 (1999-2013).|
WM: Such as?
MACK: During my tenure, there were probably three-quarters of a billion dollars in non-academic development, where we leased the land and had future participation and increased rents and financing proceeds, and we will eventually take back that land after a number of years. The culmination was the purchase of the post office site, which is now Penn Park. It includes, west to east, the retail at 40th Street to the Radian, to the Domus, to the Sheraton, as well as to the Left Bank, and then finally to Penn Park. And many major academic buildings were constructed, the first one being Huntsman Hall, and all the other major academic facilities that have gone up in the last 15 years.
It was very rewarding being part of the development of a campus that was not only growing but being modernized and upgraded.
WM: With your involvement with the Mack Institute, are you driven also by a personal interest in technology?
MACK: Yes, I have a personal interest in it, probably because it’s not the kind of thing that I’ve done in my business career. Real estate and the construction and development of buildings have not changed much in the last hundred years; whereas, technology is changing very, very rapidly. And so going into a field that is much different gave me the ability to learn a lot more about technology and try to be at the intersection of business and technology.
WM:How did you first reconnect with the University?
MACK: In my first 20 years [after graduating], I was working very hard, as I continue to do, but I didn’t have much time for a full range of outside philanthropic participation. We were trying to establish ourselves and grow a business. I started in my 40s to get involved with various philanthropic organizations, and it was when my oldest son was in high school that I said to myself, “You know, this is a great place to be active in, and I’d like him to go to Penn.” And so I started to become more interested in the school. And he wound up going to the school, as did my second son as well. As I saw more of the University in its then-current iteration, I got more and more interested and excited about the prospects of the University and of Wharton and got more involved.
WM: Do you have a favorite memory from your time as a student?
MACK: It’s hard to put together one fond memory, but I enjoyed the atmosphere of the School and the people that I met. I think one of the most important things here in being a Penn student is that you create relationships that are lifelong. While you’re in school, you meet a lot of people who will be your friends for life and will be your business associates for life.
WM: Do you want to give a shout-out to an old classmate?
MACK: My fraternity brother, Herb Krauss, W’61, whom I’m still friendly with, introduced me to my wife, and I introduced him to his wife.
Editor’s note: Read about how the Mack Institute for Innovation Management has become a hub for innovation-related research at the Wharton School and beyond in our side story, “Building a 21st Century Institute.“