The Philanthropy Roundtable is pleased to announce the selection of Bruce and Suzie Kovner as the 2016 recipients of the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership. The Simon Prize honors the ideals and principles that guided Mr. Simon’s giving, including personal responsibility, resourcefulness, volunteerism, scholarship, individual freedom, faith in God, and helping people to help themselves.
Bruce Kovner was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family shaped by the immigrant experience; his grandparents fled to the United States to avoid pogroms in Poland and Russia in the late nineteenth century. He was raised in southern California. While Mr. Kovner’s parents were not able to complete their educations, they invested in their son, and he went on to attend Harvard as an undergraduate and a Ph.D. candidate, studying under Edward Banfield, James Q. Wilson, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
In 1983, he founded Caxton Associates, a global macro hedge fund which grew to manage $14 billion in assets. At Caxton he became known as a leader of the quant revolution, recruiting excellent minds in science and math regardless of their background in finance (or lack of it). Mr. Kovner retired in 2012 to focus on philanthropy with his wife, Suzie. A passionate advocate for education and the arts, Mrs. Kovner was inspired by her grandfather, Edgar Fairchild, a successful business leader who was committed to helping students pursue more academic opportunity than was available to him.
Mr. Kovner began supporting school-choice initiatives more than 20 years ago by funding private vouchers for disadvantaged kids, working for charter-school legislation, and supporting charter-school networks. Since 1996, the Kovner Foundation has focused on education reform, promoting excellence in the arts and education, defending private enterprise and individual rights, and funding scholarly work that strengthens democratic principles.
“I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to meet Bill Simon years ago when he was in the Nixon administration,” says Mr. Kovner. “We have long been admirers of his work in government, business, and philanthropy. We feel particularly honored by the prize because of our strong connection to the principles he worked for throughout his life: free enterprise, individual freedom, and helping those who want to help themselves. Our work for education reform, reducing poverty through strong economic growth, and supporting innovative policy research reflects these shared ideals. We also share his view that taking leadership roles in organizations we support can sometimes be particularly helpful in accomplishing our goals.”
Since 2001, Mr. Kovner has served as the chairman of the board of the Juilliard School and also serves as vice chairman of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He serves on the boards of the Metropolitan Opera and American Enterprise Institute (where he was chairman for six years), and was formerly on the board of the New York Philharmonic. Mrs. Kovner is a director of Success Academy Charter Schools and Thanks USA, a trustee of Carnegie Hall, and leader of the advocacy group for Ensemble ACJW, a Carnegie Hall and Juilliard School effort that supports young professional musicians as they build their careers. In 2002 she established the first U.S. office of the National Theatre of Great Britain and is currently a member of the Board of the American Associates. She is also a sustaining member of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s administrative board.
Previous winners of the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership include David Weekley, Jon Huntsman Sr., Eli and Edythe Broad, Bernie Marcus, Charles Koch, Roger Hertog, Phil and Nancy Anschutz, Rich and Helen DeVos, Dr. Ben Carson, the late Sir John Templeton, and the late John Walton. The prize includes a $250,000 award, payable to the charity designated by the winner.
The Kovners will be honored on November 16 at the Charleston Place Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, during a special luncheon at the 2016 Annual Meeting of The Philanthropy Roundtable.