Morton Mandel, a Jewish-American self-made billionaire businessman and renowned philanthropist, died at his Florida home on Wednesday morning. He was 98.
Born in Cleveland in 1921 to struggling Jewish immigrant parents from Eastern Europe, Mandel first worked during his teenage years as a food vendor at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Although he received a scholarship to study chemistry at Adelbert College (now Case Western Reserve University), he dropped out in 1940 to purchase a car parts shop from his uncle for $900, together with his brothers, Jack and Joseph. The company, which evolved into leading electric component supplier Premier Industrial Corporation, merged with British distributor Farnell Electronics to form Premier Farnell in a $3 billion deal in 1996.
Spanning almost eight decades, Mandel’s business career and subsequent philanthropic endeavors supported a range of social leadership, educational and Jewish community initiatives worldwide, including many in Israel.
President Reuven Rivlin paid tribute to Mandel, describing the philanthropist as a “dear and beloved friend, a fine Jew who loved his people.”
“I do not doubt that the seeds Mort Mandel planted and cultivated until his last day, for the State of Israel and the Jewish people, will continue to flower for generations to come,” Rivlin said.
Together with his brothers, Mandel established and chaired the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation in 1953 to fund leadership educational programs, both in partnership with academic institutions and at the foundation’s own institutions.
Generous donations enabled the establishment of numerous centers of education, including the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, the Mandel Institute for Nonprofit Leadership, as well as community development organization Cleveland Neighborhood Progress.
In 1991, Mandel established the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation - Israel. The Jerusalem-headquartered foundation is estimated to have donated over $500 million to Israeli causes.
During almost three decades of activity, the foundation has established initiatives including the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem, the Mandel IDF Educational Leadership Program and a range of programs for leadership in the ultra-Orthodox community and Israel’s geographic and social peripheries. The foundation has also sponsored the establishment of centers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said he had “truly loved” Mandel, who had been a “great friend” to him and his parents Aura and president Chaim Herzog over the years.
“He left a huge legacy as a lover of Israel, as a Jewish leader, as a philanthropist making change,” said Herzog. “He will be remembered for his leadership, innovative thinking and his passion for Israel and the Jewish people. The Jewish Agency sends our deepest condolences to his wife, Barbara, his children and entire family, and the leaders and staff at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation.”
"Today, we say farewell to a dear man, a visionary and a true Zionist who has worked extensively for the State of Israel," said Amnon Cohen, the chief executive of IEL, which currently owns Yeruham-based Phoenicia Glass Industries, medical service provider Bikurofe and holds shares in Petah Tikva-headquartered packaging solutions company Tadbik.
"When Israel Equity was established in 2003, the acquisition of companies had a direct link to Zionism, with an emphasis on investments in peripheral areas as part of Mandel's vision. We will continue to work even harder to realize his vision to advance employment in the periphery."
“Morton’s impact at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev was singular and substantial. Through his vision and support, The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Institute for Social Leadership, the first social leadership institute in Israel, was created on BGU’s campus. His sage advice and forward thinking has put BGU at the forefront of social leadership education within Israel, and his influence will be felt in future generations in Israel and the Jewish world. He will be missed but his legacy lives on,” BGU President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz said, “I offer my deep condolences to Barbara, Mort’s widow, and the entire extended Mandel family."
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
in 2014, Mandel expressed his desire to acquire additional companies that are failing and "fix them up."
Referring to one of the businesses owned by IEL, he said, "I own this company because I want to create jobs in Israel, and I am going to expand this company to create more jobs. I’m a billionaire; I didn’t come to make more money. I've given millions away."
Adv. Yehuda Raveh, a close friend of Morton Mandel, who also represented him in his activities in Israel for 30 years, spoke today about his friend: "Many know Mort as somebody who was a huge philanthropist, a generous businessman, and management guru. But the Mort that I knew was most of all a very special and exceptional man.
It's tough to sum up Mort and his activities in just a few lines but above all else there were three things about him that stood out: great modesty, constant striving for excellence and maybe most important of all – leadership in education, which contributed to the education systems and higher education.
Recently, during one of the conversations that we conducted, I asked him, "What is the secret of your long life and continues creativity? At the ripe old age of 98, he answered without a hint of confusion: 'never retire'.
I admired Mort for who he was, and even the many who do not know the size of his contribution owe him a debt of gratitude for what he did. May his memory be blessed.”
Mandel has received numerous awards and honorary doctorates for his philanthropic efforts, including the Presidential Award for Private Sector Initiatives presented by President Ronald Reagan and the 2019 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.
Only last month, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Tel Aviv University. In 2013, more than seven decades after dropping out of college, Mandel earned his undergraduate degree from Case Western.
Mandel is survived by his wife, Barbara, three children and seven grandchildren.