Drexel President John Fry to Receive 2021 William Penn Award
February 18, 2022
The award, which has been given annually since 1949, recognizes individuals for their outstanding contributions toward the betterment of the region, professional accomplishments, and commitment to charity as well as to the community. Fry will be honored the evening of May 19.
“Few leaders in our city and region are as dynamic as John Fry. His exceptional vision and intellect have not only reimagined higher education, but revitalized Philadelphia neighborhoods and commercial corridors,” said Rob Wonderling, the Chamber’s president and CEO. “John’s innovative work on behalf of all citizens is to be commended. We are honored to bestow this award on this outstanding civic leader.”
Fry was appointed Drexel University’s 14th president in 2010 and set out to transform Drexel into a private research university with a strong public purpose — an institution that harnesses its strengths to serve its students, its neighborhood, city and the nation. Prior to Drexel, Fry was president of Franklin & Marshall College, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania, and a management consultant for the higher education and nonprofit sectors.
Under Fry’s leadership, Drexel has set a national example for the execution of public-private partnerships, and become a powerful force for economic development in Greater Philadelphia. He has championed major neighborhood revitalization initiatives, including the creation of a multi-faceted university extension center in Mantua — the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships — extensive economic development efforts, and significant partnerships to support local neighborhood schools. He negotiated a groundbreaking affiliation with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and launched the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship to foster entrepreneurial learning. Under Fry, Drexel also has seen a significant increase in fundraising and a growing number of philanthropic partners. Landmark gifts in recent years include $50 million from Thomas R. Kline to support the Kline School of Law and $45 million from Dana and David Dornsife to support the Dornsife School of Public Health. In November 2017, Drexel publicly launched a campaign which just surpassed its $750 million goal in support of scholarships, faculty chairs and other academic initiatives.
A focal point of Drexel’s strategic plan is to become an even greater economic engine for Greater Philadelphia. This commitment is at the heart of Schuylkill Yards, a $3.5 billion mixed-use project with development partner Brandywine Realty Trust on University real estate adjacent to Philadelphia’s Amtrak 30th Street Station. In partnership with Wexford Science and Technology, Drexel is extending uCity Square, a multi-billion-dollar development, through a Drexel University-assisted K-8 public school and soon to be relocated colleges of Medicine and Nursing and Health Professions. Most recently, Spark Therapeutics announced plans to invest $575 million in the creation of a new, state-of-the-art gene therapy innovation center on Drexel’s campus in the heart of University City.
“John Fry has been one of the region’s great transformative leaders,” said Susan Jacobson, chair of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. “As a past chamber chair, he made sure we focused on what makes our city world class, then built upon those strengths. In his role as president of Drexel University, he set a national example for public-private partnerships and become a force for economic development in the region. Philadelphia is fortunate to have his vision and leadership.”
Fry served two years as chairman of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, concluding his tenure in October 2018. He serves on the boards of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, the Kresge Foundation, the Wistar Institute, Lafayette College and the Philadelphia Orchestra Association.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Fry graduated from Lafayette College and earned a master’s degree in business administration from the New York University Stern School of Business. He and his wife Cara, an art historian, have three children: Mia, a recent graduate of Penn Law who is completing a federal clerkship in Boston; Nat, who runs his own woodworking business at the Bok Collaborative; and Phoebe, an undergraduate filmmaker at Drexel.
Fry said, “I am deeply honored to receive the William Penn Award and to be recognized by an extraordinary group of Chamber leaders whose partnership and support have been integral to Drexel University’s ongoing work to promote the civic health and economic competitiveness of the Greater Philadelphia region. I believe that the highest form of leadership is service, and it has been my privilege to serve a great institution like Drexel that has brought so much innovation, vitality, and opportunity to the city that I love.”
Past William Penn Award recipients include Denis P. O’Brien, former Senior Executive Vice President, Exelon Corporation; Amy Gutmann, former President, University of Pennsylvania; and Daniel J. Hilferty, former President and CEO, Independence Health Group. For more information, visit chamberphl.com.
The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia brings area businesses and civic leaders together to promote growth and create opportunity in the region. Members represent 11 counties, three states and roughly 600,000 employees from thousands of member companies and organizations. The Chamber advocates for regional development, business-friendly public policies and economic prosperity serving one clear goal: to make Greater Philadelphia a great place for good business.