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Obama’s appoints Hyatt heiress as commerce secretary

Penny Pritzker has become the first US commerce secretary from a major family business since steel industrialist William Verity held the post during the Reagan administration.
The new US commerce secretary Penny Pritzker
©Press Association

Penny Pritzker has become the first US commerce secretary from a major family business since steel industrialist William Verity held the post during the Reagan administration.

The appointment of Hyatt second-gen Pritzker as US commerce secretary could allow her to advance the interests of family business, according to Josh Baron, a Partner with US-based Banyan Family Business Advisors. 

Baron said: "She could foster connections between growing US family businesses and their counterparts overseas."

He added: "We do find that family businesses can often establish closer commercial ties with other family businesses than with other types of companies."

As a teenager, Pritzker was anxious not to be excluded from the family's business activities and reportedly once wrote to her grandfather – real estate investor Abram Pritzker – on his birthday to fight her corner. 

"Dear Grandpa, I would like to know why you only talk to the boys about business," she wrote. "For your birthday, I want you to understand that young women are interested in knowing what you know too."

However, Baron emphasised Pritzker has not stated the interests of family businesses are her priority, and said she may even be wary of the family businesses after her own family was almost torn apart by infighting over inheritance following the death of her uncle, the family business patriarch Jay Pritzker, in 1999.

In a near unanimous vote, the Senate confirmed Pritzker’s appointment to the role on Tuesday, following her nomination to the post by President Barack Obama in May.

Pritzker serves as a director for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, the family-controlled luxury hotel group of which her cousin Thomas Pritzker is executive chairman.

In a statement issued after her appointment was confirmed, Obama said Pritzker would be a key part of the team behind growing the economy and middle class families in the US.

“Penny is a proven leader, a successful entrepreneur, and one of the most accomplished and highly-respected women in business today,” he said.

“She knows what it takes to build companies from the ground up, and she shares my belief in doing everything we can to help businesses and workers succeed and make America a magnet for good jobs.”

Pritzker's father Donald and his brother Jay bought Hyatt from its founders in 1957 having already purchased a motel adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport. Today the company’s portfolio includes 508 properties in 46 countries.  

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