50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine consulted dozens of power brokers and behind-the-scene players to determine and rank the 50 individuals who, in Pittsburgh, make things happen.



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Power. It’s the ability to make things happen — and to move and shake others to action. It is a concept devoid of judgment; power can be used for a good and honorable outcome, but it also can be used as a cudgel for a negative one. There are many ways to wield it: Some individuals bend people to their will through force of personality and ideas; some use wealth and the promise of sharing it. Others, knowing the power in sheer numbers, lead groups to make change. The most powerful among us possess a combination of these traits. Through history, fabled titans of industry and finance shaped Pittsburgh. Today, the meaning of power here requires a more nuanced assessment.

Pittsburgh Magazine spoke with dozens of power brokers and behind-the-scene players in public and private industries to learn more about the women and men with influence today. Pittsburgh’s power structure is continually evolving, and in recent years, we’ve seen new leaders emerge in practically every institution and sector, including politics, nonprofit organizations and universities. Had we assembled a version of this list 15 years ago, for example, it would have looked remarkably different. In 2000, Grant Oliphant was working at a marketing company, Bill Peduto was a staffer for a member of City Council, Subra Suresh was teaching at MIT and Laura Karet was working at Sara Lee in Chicago. Fast-forward to today, and they’re helming The Heinz Endowments, the City of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Giant Eagle, respectively. That’s a sea change in leadership.

"Immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control affairs." Andrew Carnegie

An important note: This is not a list of our favorite people in the city nor a grouping of do-gooders. It is a list of people who control the levers of government, business, foundations and nonprofits. One dynamic that came out in our reporting: White men and the leaders of the Democratic Party still run a large portion of Pittsburgh. To be sure, many of them use their power admirably, but there’s no doubt that a more diverse group of leaders — one that reflects the city and region — would be better positioned to respond to the needs and goals of our entire community. It’s up to us, as a city, to help our next leaders begin to take the reins.

This list, then, is a snapshot in time, a representation of the women and men who control Pittsburgh today. Fifteen years from now, it will look remarkably different. 
 


PHOTO BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK
 

1. Grant Oliphant
President, The Heinz Endowments

If there’s a major project happening in Pittsburgh, chances are that Oliphant is pulling the strings. His six-year tenure atop The Pittsburgh Foundation saw that organization increase its assets by a third in the middle of a recession; even more impressively, that foundation oversaw the recruiting and hiring of Mayor Bill Peduto’s senior staff through its Talent City initiative. Oliphant quickly has made his presence known at Heinz, which shortly after his arrival in May 2014 jettisoned a controversial connection to the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. Since then, he’s overseen the P4 Conference on urbanism in April, become the primary force in development of the 178-acre Almono site in Hazelwood, brokered the sale of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture to Heinz and other foundations and forged close ties to the Peduto administration. In Pittsburgh in 2015, no opinion matters more than Oliphant’s.  ◆
 

2. Jeffrey Romoff
President and CEO, UPMC

During the 23 years Romoff has served as president of UPMC — he earned the CEO title in 2006 — he’s helped to turn it into one of the most advanced and visionary health systems in the world. UPMC also is one of the biggest, generating $10.1 billion in revenue in the last fiscal year and becoming Pennsylvania’s largest private employer. Still, UPMC’s quality care (repeatedly ranked among the nation’s best on the U.S. News & World Report honor roll) and myriad good deeds (such as giving $100 million to The Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program) often are overshadowed by some of its business practices. Hard-knuckled tactics (combating the union drive for low-wage workers, refusing in-network care to Highmark patients), at times can verge on petulant; witness the recent banishment of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from hospital newsstands. Still, like him or not, Romoff makes his presence known.  ◆
 


PHOTO BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK
 

3. Bill Peduto
​Mayor, City of Pittsburgh

After eight years of having former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in City Hall, the Peduto administration has been a breath of fresh air. The city’s current leader has been jetting around the country and world, talking up Pittsburgh’s greatness, while overseeing a number of long-overdue (and Millennial-friendly) projects. Among them: revamping the newly renamed Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspection; updating the city’s computer systems; installing widely — if not universally — applauded bike lanes; hiring a diverse group of technocrats to oversee city departments (see No. 14); and creating a plan to increase the city’s population through immigration. He’s had a couple of small stumbles — such as his attempt to conceal the source of funding for “Undercover Boss” gifts — but it finally feels as if City Hall is working for its residents again.  ◆
 


PHOTO BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK
 

4. Rich Fitzgerald
Executive, Allegheny County

The bossman of Allegheny ate a slice of humble pie after his favored candidates in the May primaries went down in defeat, but there’s no escaping the fact that Fitz is a major player in the area. He oversees the vitally important county departments, including the Health Department (where he managed to attract top talent Karen Hacker) and Human Services (run by widely respected Marc Cherna), as well as the Airport Authority (where Christina Cassotis, No. 17, is making waves). Fitzgerald’s most powerful trait, though, might be his ability to build strong working relationships with fellow politicians such as Peduto (No. 3), Gov. Tom Wolf (No. 31), U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (No. 44) and state Sen. Jay Costa (No. 48).  ◆
 

5. Laura Karet
CEO, Giant Eagle

When Karet took the helm of the grocery firm that feeds much of the region from her father, David Shapira, in 2012, she hit the aisles running. She already had launched the Market District to counter high-end grocers such as Whole Foods, and as CEO, she’s continued to capitalize on the success of the perks programs with an eye on better branding and better digital tools. Up next for Karet and Giant Eagle — the 35th largest private company in America and the largest supermarket chain in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland in 2014 — is to continue opening more stores, with the ambitious goal of doubling 2014’s $9.7 billion in revenue in the next 10 years. She’s also chair of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the business-support arm of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.  ◆
 

"The measure of a man is what he does with power." Plato

6. William Demchak
Chairman, President & CEO, PNC Financial Services Group

In his relatively short tenure atop the fifth-largest bank in the United States and one of our region’s few Fortune 500 corporations, Demchak has proved himself to be an able successor to the legendary Jim Rohr (who remains a player at No. 15). The 52-year-old has positioned PNC as a more environmentally friendly organization by limiting lending to companies focused on mountaintop coal removal and by completing the energy-efficient — and handsome — addition to the city’s skyline begun by Rohr: the 33-story Tower at PNC Plaza. On the community side, Demchak serves on the influential boards of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the YMCA and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and he also is chairing the board of Envision Downtown, a foundation-funded program to reimagine pedestrian and traffic interactions. Oh, and PNC’s stock price has done well, too: It’s up 30 points since Demchak became president in 2012.  ◆
 

7. Scott Izzo
Director, Richard K Mellon Foundation

​Izzo likes to fly under the radar, abhorring both press interviews and public acclaim for his works, but he has the biggest checkbook in the region, thanks to the $2 billion endowment of R.K. Mellon. It’s a major benefactor in both conservation with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and in economic development projects such as the Energy Innovation Center and East Liberty transit development. “Initiatives,” one area leader told us, “are based on where Scott will stand.”  ◆
 


PHOTO BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK
 

8. Subra Suresh
President, Carnegie Mellon University

You don’t get this high on the list without an astounding resume, and few can match that of Suresh: After growing up and earning an engineering degree in his native India, he earned a Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he first was hired as a professor and researcher. Later, he served as that school’s dean of engineering. Before joining CMU, he ran the National Science Foundation, a $7 billion federal agency that provides grants for science research; while there, he also happened to work with another high-level bureaucrat named Pat Gallagher (No. 9), portending the continuation of a strong University of Pittsburgh-CMU relationship and their roles in New Pittsburgh’s tech and intellectual braintrust. His leadership and connections — in Washington, D.C., and internationally — will further leverage CMU’s world-renowned reputation.  ◆
 


PHOTO BY BECKY THURNER BRADDOCK
 

9. Patrick Gallagher
Chancellor & CEO, University of Pittsburgh

After earning a Ph.D. in physics at Pitt in 1991, Gallagher went off into the world, rising up at the National Institute of Standards and Technology — eventually becoming that agency’s director under President Barack Obama — before returning to his alma mater last year to become the school’s 18th chancellor. He’s already making dynamic moves, exciting staff with a $1 million early-stage investment fund for faculty projects and mobilizing partnerships with a multimillion-dollar project to analyze health care data with CMU and UPMC.  ◆
 

10. The Hillman Family
Philanthropists, Hillman Family Foundations

The passing of Elsie Hillman on Aug. 4 shook Pittsburgh’s foundation and political worlds, where for decades, the first question about potential developments in the region — a new park, a new school, a new social-services program, a would-be Republican politico — was: “What does Elsie think?” Renowned for her generosity and support of women’s issues, she was the first and last word on both aspiring nonprofit projects and political candidates, particularly moderate Republicans who shared her social views. For now, husband Henry will continue their longtime philanthropic mission; in recent years, he’s been the energy behind Envision Downtown and Carnegie Mellon University’s BrainHub, gifting $5 million for the multidisciplinary project aimed at fostering better understanding of the human brain. But with Henry no longer as intimately involved in the nitty-gritty of projects as he once was, the question becomes: Who will take over the Hillman Family Foundations? President David Roger is a highly respected leader, but the city and region await the vision of the next generation of the Hillman family.  ◆
 

Next: 50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh #11-20
 

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