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Where the Profound Meets Business Savvy: Roger Hertog’s Approach to Philanthropy

Roger Hertog, former chairman and President of investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., Inc. and the son of German Jewish refugees, faced the profound questions posted by the Holocaust at a young age. Why were 6 million people allowed to die? Why was I spared when so many of my family were not?

That focus on deep inquiry continues to guide Hertog, particularly in his philanthropic endeavors, the majority of which he conducts through The Hertog Foundation and The Tikvah Fund. Through both foundations, Hertog aims to help address life’s most enduring questions by bolstering secular and Jewish thought, respectively.

For example, Hertog built the Bronx Library Center to create learning opportunities for today’s youth. In addition, he supports think tanks, such as the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, cultural institutions, including the New-York Historical Society, and educational initiatives, like the Hertog Global Strategy Initiative, a research program at Columbia University that uses historical analysis to confront problems in world politics—to name just a few.

Hertog’s philosophical bent is equally matched by his business savvy, and he uses principles of research, analysis and systematic thought, to run his philanthropy like a business—and is surprised when others do not. "Anyone who's been great at business knows that some of the most successful things they've done didn't start off like a barn burner when they began," he says. "One has to recognize [philanthropy] is a long-term endeavor.”

Hertog also believes philanthropists should ask the same key questions at the outset of philanthropic ventures that they would of business ventures. For example, what vacuum in the market are you filling with your investments? Why do you think you're particularly good at this? “Small mistakes at the beginning have enormous significance,” he says.

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