As Philadelphia's budget director for five years, Mike Masch helped the city bounce back from the brink of bankruptcy in the early 1990s. But two years ago, he decided it was time to move on. Given the opportunity to work for one of the most prestigious institutions in Philadelphia, Masch came to the University to serve in a capacity similar to what he had done for the city. Masch is not the only high-ranking city administrator to make the proverbial jump from City Hall to College Hall in recent years. At least a half-dozen top Penn officials -- including Managing Director of Public Safety Tom Seamon, Vice President for Finance Kathy Engebretson and Managing Director of Economic Development Jack Shannon -- have also come to the University after stints in top city positions. What makes Penn such an attractive employer? A few common reasons pop up in interviews with University and city officials: Penn is the largest private employer in the city, giving such a job instant prestige and more stability than a public-sector job, and the University injects billions of dollars into the state's economy, giving it an image unmatched in Philadelphia. The higher salaries and better perks don't hurt either. Masch called Penn "one of the city's brightest bright spots" since it appears to be self-sufficient and economically vibrant. In addition, the University recruited Masch and gave him the opportunity to increase his salary 33 percent while working in an academic setting, a prospect "he liked," according to Kevin Feeley, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell's spokesperson. Other areas of the city may not be as financially stable as Penn. The city's economic base has been shrinking steadily over the past 50 years and there has been a subsequent population decrease. Less than 1.5 million people live in the city today, according to Census Bureau statistics. Given those circumstances, the city values Penn for providing a booming dollar influx. Engebretson worked for the Rendell administration for two years as city treasurer helping to solve a cash crisis and raise the bond rating. At the start of Rendell's first term in January 1992, the city was plagued by a cash crisis and a low bond rating, in which no organization would lend money to the city. Engebretson left the city in 1994 to continue work on her dissertation at Penn and work for a money-management firm. When Penn came calling last year, the salary it offered was a positive factor. "Financially, it was a big sacrifice to work for the city," Engebretson said. "I made more money at my old job [at the investment firm] and in my new job at Penn." Feeley added that there "are outstanding jobs at Penn. So why wouldn't anyone want to work there?" Shannon, Penn's top economic development official who has been closely involved with the vending issue, used to serve as the city's deputy director of commerce. He left his position in city government in 1997 simply because Penn recruited him. "I had a great three-year tenure working for Mayor Rendell and his cabinet, but working for Penn was an opportunity I couldn't pass up," Shannon said. Explaining why many people switch over to University positions, at-large Councilman Frank Rizzo suggested that private sector jobs -- like university positions -- are appealing because they are more stable and can grow. Shannon added that University President Judith Rodin's interests are linked to Rendell's interests, primarily because "the future of the University depends on a healthy and vibrant city of Philadelphia, and just the same that the future of Philadelphia depends on a healthy and vibrant University." With that reciprocal relationship in mind, Shannon still maintained that Penn has not been given any unreasonable advantages in the city. Penn's Executive Vice President John Fry was directly involved in recruiting Shannon, Engebretson and Seamon -- a former deputy Philadelphia Police commissioner. In doing so, Fry said he looked for people who have already established credibility in the city and were interested in working in the University environment. Fry said the salary Penn offers is not the most attractive part of the package. "These people [who Penn recruits] are real professionals and they wanted professional challenges, so they came to Penn," Fry said. But Fry added that Penn has a huge presence in a "crucial" part of the city. "I would say we are a very large and important part of the economy, so when we have needs, people tend to listen to us," Fry said. "And when you talk to people in the city about who they know, Penn is high on their list." Penn is indisputably attractive in its size, prestige and its academic community, and it's touted as a proactive institution "where people are always doing things," Fry said.Comments powered by Disqus
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