Peter B. Lewis named commencement speaker

Suneil Kamath, Civic Engagement Reporter

Peter B. Lewis is careful with his choices in investments of not only his money, but also his time. His decision to speak at this year’s commencement highlights Case Western Reserve University’s recent rise in national rankings.

Lewis is a distinguished business leader who was the CEO of Progressive, one of the largest insurance companies in the United States, until 2000. He did not stop there; he is currently its chairman.

For the most part, Lewis has been a huge supporter of CWRU. He is a Cleveland native, and his father, mother, and sister received their degrees from CWRU. In fact, he has donated millions of dollars to CWRU, including $36.9 million dollars in 2002 to fund the Weatherhead School of Management’s ‘Peter B. Lewis Building.’

Lewis, however, became highly dissatisfied with CWRU administration’s management of his donation and the planning of the building. He quickly noticed that CWRU was starting to experience growing financial problems and higher employee turnover rates. According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, Lewis called CWRU “a diseased university that is collapsing and sucking Cleveland into a hole with it.” As a result, Lewis decided to stop giving major donations to Cleveland organizations and his donation in 2002 marked his last significant gift to the University and the Cleveland area.

After CWRU President Barbara Snyder arrived in 2007, though, the tides shifted. CWRU’s finances and management started to improve Lewis’s opinion about CWRU and Cleveland slowly started to experience a renaissance. According to the Crain’s article, Lewis stated that “She [Snyder] has impressed me since the day she arrived.” In 2012, Lewis made a $5 million dollar donation to the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), making it his biggest donation since 2002.

Lewis’ presence at CWRU’s commencement reveals he now sees CWRU as a strong and promising institution, which is destined for more positive growth.

During the ceremony, Lewis will likely speak about essential life values he has learned over the years working at Progressive and other endeavors. In his letter to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet joining the Giving Pledge, an initiative to have the ultra-wealthy donate more than half their income to philanthropy, Lewis advised them, “Having already given away nearly half my net worth, I plan to keep on going…The catch phrases that drive my life and philanthropy include: Enjoy every day; Think outside the lines; Risk, learn and grow; Ideas are easy, execution pays off; Constantly improve; Admit mistakes, fix them and move on; Problems are opportunities; Hard work makes winners.”

Lewis will speak about his life’s motto and more, as well as receive an honorary degree, on May 19 beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the Veale Convocation, Athletic, and Recreation Center.