Pittsburgh Foundation taps Maxwell King as new president

For the past four years, former Heinz Endowments president Maxwell King has been working on a biography of broadcast icon and Pittsburgh native Fred Rogers.

“Immersing myself in the world of Fred Rogers heightened my sense of the special character of Pittsburgh,” said Mr. King, who moved to Vermont in 2012. “Pittsburgh has this very down-to-earth, straightforward, hard-working, straight-from-the-shoulder way of life.”

Now he is going to be your neighbor again.

The Pittsburgh Foundation named Mr. King as its new president and CEO on Friday, replacing Grant Oliphant, who was named in April as the new president of The Heinz Endowments.

Since Mr. King, 70, moved away from Pittsburgh eight years ago — first to Ligonier and later to New England — the city has been pulling him back.

“The truth is, my wife and I found that we really missed that strong sense of community that is in Pittsburgh,” he said. “Pittsburgh has so much momentum now and such a sense of purpose and such a sense of possibility.”

His five-year term will start in September, and he will oversee the nation’s 14th-largest community foundation, which has more than $1 billion in assets and delivered $40.5 million in grants in 2013.

His salary was not disclosed, but Mr. Oliphant earned $332,150 in base pay and $98,841 in related compensation, according to 2012 Pittsburgh Foundation tax documents.

Mr. King, who anticipates finishing his Fred Rogers biography next year, was at a fundraiser in May for the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media in Latrobe when he reconnected with Edith Shapira, chair of the board of directors for The Pittsburgh Foundation. She invited Mr. King to her farm, where the two talked for more than four hours in her kitchen about the community and the sense of momentum that the city has.

At the end of the conversation, Dr. Shapira asked if Mr. King would be interested in being a candidate to lead The Pittsburgh Foundation. After consulting with his wife, Peggy, he agreed. The next month, he returned to Western Pennsylvania to interview with the search committee.

“When Max left Pittsburgh, the region lost an important leader, and he has been missed,” Dr. Shapira said in the announcement. “Max King is a smart, thoughtful and charismatic leader who knows and loves Pittsburgh. It was important for the foundation to lock in a strong community leader to take us forward and there’s nobody better to do that than Max King.”

Mr. King brings back to Pittsburgh a management style he first observed as a journalist. He spent eight years as editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and said he modeled his leadership after Gene Roberts, his predecessor at the newspaper.

“He took almost six months to listen and learn,” Mr. King said. “When he advanced his agenda, everybody was a part of it.”

That is how Mr. King approached his tenure at The Heinz Endowments, which he joined in 1999, taking time to evaluate the landscape before embarking on a bold mission. Under his leadership, The Heinz Endowments used nonprofit dollars to promote overhaul in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, entice development in Downtown real estate and enhance the relationship between technological improvements and environmental causes.

When he announced in June 2007 that he would step down from The Heinz Endowments, the Post-Gazette editorial board praised his work.

“Maxwell King may not be a household name,” the editorial board wrote, “but his work and that of The Heinz Endowments has touched more households in the region than anyone can count.”

He intends to spend his first several months back listening and learning, similar to what he did when he first moved to Pittsburgh to lead philanthropic endeavors. But he hopes to play an active role in the causes that were important to him when he headed The Heinz Endowments — green development, environmental programs and education.

As a community advocate, The Pittsburgh Foundation pools endowment funds created by individuals, groups and businesses and uses the money to address issues in the region.

The region has changed a lot since Mr. King stepped away from The Heinz Endowments, particularly because of Marcellus Shale development. The economic activity around the oil and gas resources in the shale formation has brought a lot of money to the region, but Mr. King is worried the development is not being done in an environmentally responsible manner.

He said The Pittsburgh Foundation is well positioned to handle those challenges, following the tenure of Mr. Oliphant, who worked under Mr. King at The Heinz Endowments.

“I’ll now be his understudy,” Mr. King said. “I think that will be fun.”

When both worked at The Heinz Endowments, they made it a point to enhance the relationships in the region’s nonprofit community by collaborating on similar projects and engaging more people in the community. With both now leading separate organizations, Mr. King expects that work to continue.

“This is terrific news for Pittsburgh,” Mr. Oliphant said in a statement Friday. “Max is a stellar leader, and I’m looking forward to working with him again as a colleague and a partner.”

Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1969 and Twitter @msanserino.

Correction, posted Aug. 16: Maxwell King announced in June 2007 that he would be stepping down as president of The Heinz Endowments. An earlier version of this story gave the year as 2006. 

First Published August 15, 2014 12:00 AM

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