Peter B. Lewis is the Cleveland, Ohio-area based Chairman of Progressive Insurance Companies. Lewis cultivates a reputation as a maverick, a controversial leader and businessman, and creative thinker.
Lewis graduated from Princeton University in 1955.
In 1965, Lewis became CEO of Progressive Insurance, which at that time had 100 employees and $6 million in revenues. As of 1997, Progressive had grown to 14,000 employees with sales of $4.8 billion and become the fifth largest auto insurance company in the United States. In 2002 Lewis retired as CEO of Progressive, though he remains as Chairman of the Board.
In 1987, Lewis and Alfred Lerner (1933-2002), owner of the Cleveland Browns and CEO of MBNA America Bank, attempted a takeover of the Cleveland Trust Bank of Cleveland, Ohio. Though the takeover attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, it was profitable for both Lewis and Lerner.
Lewis's approach to business is often unorthodox. For instance, Progressive's headquarters, designed by Bialosky + Partners Architects and built in 1994, includes a health club and travel agency in addition to the ubiquitous contemporary art. Lewis credits these and other unorthodox factors for helping create an environment in which creative thinking thrives--the kind of creative thinking that Lewis says makes a more profitable business.
With an estimated net worth in excess of a billion dollars, Lewis frequently donates money to charities and political groups. He is a patron of the arts and supports many artistic pursuits. Lewis's personal and corporate contemporary art collection is well known--the corporate collection is displayed at Progressive Insurance offices. Lewis has made donations to:
- Princeton University (A Gehry designed science library, $60 million; the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, $55 million; arts initiative, $101 million. Total $233 million to date.)
- Case Western Reserve University (The Weatherhead School of Management Peter B. Lewis Building, another Gehry, $61.7 million)
- The Guggenheim Museum ($50 million)
- Menorah Park (Peter B. Lewis Aquatic & Therapy Center)
- The Democratic Party
- America Coming Together and MoveOn.org (with George Soros matching his $10 and $2.5 million, respectively)
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Marijuana Policy Project
Lewis is a trustee of Princeton University, former chairman of the board of directors at the Guggenheim Museum (resigned January 19 2005), and serves on the board of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Although Lewis often gives substantial gifts to artistic and educational organizations, he also has a reputation for--often forcefully--insisting that such organizations be financially accountable and financially sound; as of late 2004, Lewis has said he will no longer give to Case or Cleveland's University Circle neighborhood due to poor leadership and management. He has said that those funds might instead be diverted to Cleveland State University.
Lewis is an advocate of taxing and regulating the use and sale of marijuana and is one of the main financial backers of the recent, partially successful, campaign to legalize the use of marijuana for medical use in the U.S. In January 2000, Mr. Lewis was arrested and charged in New Zealand for possession of marijuana. Lewis pleaded guilty to three charges and paid a substantial fine, though under New Zealand law he was not required to serve time in jail or prison. According to his lawyer, Marie Dyhrberg, Lewis used the marijuana on the advice of his doctor for pain relief after the partial amputation of his leg in 1998, although some maintain that Lewis's marijuana use long predates 1998.
- "Eccentric billionaire has high profile at home" by Josie Clarke, The New Zealand Herald, August 31, 2000.
- "FPO chief explains tragic ending" by Daniel Chang and Gail Meadows, The Miami Herald, May 25, 2003
- "Who owns Cleveland?" by Thomas Kelly, The Cleveland Free Times, March 10, 2004.
- Article Original Source: Wikipedia