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Vulcan makes big hire

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In a significant move for the management of its sprawling business, Vulcan has hired all-rounder John Bernstein from Ford Foundation to lead its financial, technology and philanthropic operations.

Bernstein has been given the title of chief financial officer by Vulcan. But he was deeply involved in philanthropy as Ford Foundation’s operating chief. He made it clear that the same would be the case at Vulcan.

Bernstein said: “Vulcan’s diverse philanthropic portfolio and the fact that its commercial divisions directly fuel its mission present significant growth opportunities to make a positive difference in the world.”

Vulcan chief executive Bill Hilf stressed the importance of Bernstein range of skills: “He is an extremely well-regarded leader in finance and philanthropy.” 

A Ford Foundation spokesman said it had not, as yet, recruited a replacement to Bernstein. 

The late Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates, founded Vulcan in 1986 to oversee his family’s forward-looking business and philanthropic interests.  

Headquartered in Seattle, Vulcan owns the Seattle Seahawks, the NFL football team, Portland Trail Blazers, who play basketball and Seattle Sounders, a soccer team. Vulcan is a prolific filmmaker and pioneer in the use of virtual reality. Its real estate arm profited by developing commercial space across Seattle. 

Vulcan Capital became Family Capital’s 2019 investment group of the year, as a serial backer of tech-driven venture capital. It has set up an office in Singapore to target VC opportunities in Asia, a growing hub for AI opportunities. 

Following Allen’s death, from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in October 2018, sister Jody Allen took overall charge of the group. Allen’s estate at the time of his death was worth $20 billion.

Vulcan has pursued a wide range of global philanthropic initiatives funded by commercial endeavours. It works along the Paul G Allen Family Foundation, a frequent donor to good causes. 

Vulcan’s philanthropic arm has a wide range of interests. They include the use of AI to contain pandemics, protect wildlife, build smart cities and fight climate change. Vulcan has also become involved in impact investing.

Bill Hilf, a former senior vice president at Hewlett Packard, retains the position of chief executive, taking over from Paul Allen in December 2016. 

Hilf noted Bernstein had “shaped Ford Foundation’s operational systems to align with its values. His experience will be well tapped.”

Prior to his five-year stint at Ford Foundation, Bernstein was the founding president of a foundation started by the late Leon Levy, who developed a mutual fund complex for Oppenheimer & Co and hedge fund group Odyssey Partners, backed by George Soros.

At the Leon Levy Foundation, Bernstein established financial planning, analysis, internal control and philanthropic goals, underlining his passion for a broadly-based brief.

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