Inspired by their mother’s generosity of spirit, Mort Mandel (CWR ’13) and his brothers created the foundation that bears their name in 1953—even though their fledgling auto parts business was just beginning to find its way.
Its mission, later codified in writing: “to invest in people with the values, ability and passion to change the world.”
This morning Case Western Reserve joins the organizations and individuals across the country and abroad in mourning Mort Mandel, who died Wednesday at his home in Florida. He was 98.
“Mort Mandel believed fiercely in the extraordinary impact that a single individual can have,” President Barbara R. Snyder said. “In acting on that belief—in his family’s philanthropy and business—he transformed lives on our campus, in Cleveland, and around the globe. His legacy will affect generations to come.”
A memorial service for Mandel is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at The Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel.
The youngest of four siblings, Mandel grew up in Cleveland and attended Glenville High School. His family struggled financially, but his mother always found ways to help others in need. Thanks to a scholarship, Mandel was able to enroll in Adelbert College (later part of Case Western Reserve), but left in 1940 after his brothers agreed to buy their uncle’s auto shop for $900. Mandel later enlisted in the U.S. Army, and posted exam scores so high that the military sent him to Pomona College and the University of California at Berkeley for coursework relevant to his service.
His time as a soldier also included learning outside the classroom. One assignment involved transporting 15 wounded soldiers from a hospital in Tennessee to one further south. During the trip they stopped for lunch, and found that the restaurant would not serve the African-American soldiers among the group. Mandel was so angry that he had all 15 get lunch from a street vendor, where he had to pay from his own pocket rather than be able to use a military voucher.
The lesson, he later recalled, “[m]anagers who would be effective leaders must have principles and do the right thing.”
As the general manager and later Chairman and CEO of the auto parts company Mandel exercised such exceptional leadership that in 1996, Premier Industrial Corp. merged with a British firm in a $3 billion transaction. In 2012 he published It’s All about Who, a book distilling his experiences into practical guidance for others in leadership roles.
“The forces that influence an institution the most,” he wrote, “are the human forces—the people who manage it, inspire it, lead it, and build it.”
At Case Western Reserve, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation’s grants focused on opportunities to prepare people to help others. In 1988, for example, the foundation provided the naming gift for the university’s social work school. In 2007, the brothers participated in a ribbon cutting for what is now a community studies building bearing their name (made possible by another foundation gift), and in 2013, the foundation announced another grant to support renovation of the social work school building, and creation of an endowed position for its dean.
“The world has lost a renowned philanthropist and industrialist,” wrote Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Dean in Applied Social Sciences Grover “Cleve” Gilmore in a message to the school community, “but we have lost our most steadfast ally who shared our passion to change the world.”
In 2015, the foundation helped support a conference center in the Health Education Campus (HEC) of Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic—as well as a wellness pathway for CWRU medical students. This summer it awarded the latest of several major gifts to the hospital, this one for an executive institute for future health care leaders, also located in the HEC.
Among the foundation’s other focus areas have been humanities, Jewish life, and community development, all of which have seen investments locally, as well as in Israel. Mandel received multiple honorary degrees, as well as the Scholar-Patriot Award from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and, this past August, the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.
Mandel is survived by his wife, Barbara, three children and several grandchildren.