In the Jewish religion, the best thing one man can say about another is that he is a “mensch.” A rough translation of the word is someone to admire and emulate. I can’t think of a better person to call a mensch than Leon Cooperman.
Those of you in financial services may know him from his days as the head of research for Goldman Sachs. More recently, he was the head of the multi-billion dollar hedge fund Omega Advisors. During this time, Leon amassed a large fortune worthy of the great titans in business. So what makes Leon a mensch? Simply accumulating money is not the answer. Heaven knows, money can be more of a curse than a blessing.
For starters, Leon is extraordinarily charitable. He joined the pledge promoted by Warren Buffett to donate the majority of his wealth to charity, and is off to a great start. Last week, he and his wife, Toby, donated $25 million to Hunter College. Hunter is my alma mater and part of the City University system. Last year, he gave $25 million to Columbia Business School. Many other charities have benefitted from Leon’s generosity.
As I tell my children, employees, friends and anyone else who will listen, “it is not where you start that counts, it is where you finish.” Leon, like the rest of us Jewish, Italian and Irish “wise guys” who went to Hunter College in the Bronx (since renamed Lehman College), was the beneficiary of NYC’s elite education system. You see, we attended a superb school and received an unbelievable education for a grand total of $24 a semester. This was about all any of us could afford. The City University system was called the “poor man’s Harvard,” but it produced some of the greatest businesspeople, engineers, artists and thinkers this country has ever seen. I’m proud to have been a part of that system.
On a personal level, I can tell you that Leon is a mensch because of the way he treats people with kindness, respect and care. When we have our fraternity reunions, Leon is just one of the guys, being as silly and ridiculous as the rest of us. He carries no false airs about him. What you see is what you get. I’m proud to call Leon my brother.