The Pittsburgh Foundation

Henry S. Beukema: executive director of Making Life Better for Pittsburghers

Max King

By Maxwell King

President and CEO, The Pittsburgh Foundation

Some might consider Henry S. Beukema, who has announced that he will step down this fall after 24 years of leading the McCune Foundation, a curmudgeon. Well… he is: the very best kind of curmudgeon – brilliantly insightful, and very contrarian in the way he assesses potential. When everyone else zigs, Hank usually zags.

With a critical mind and a great appreciation for irony, Hank is known for his incisive and respectful approach to arm twisting, and for using his legendary sense of humor to push the funding community toward innovation. He foresaw the ascendency of university research leading to tech start-ups and improvements in medicine – a convergence known as “Eds and Meds” – and he recognized its potential to remake our regional economy.

Between 1992 and 2015, Hank shepherded the distribution of $434 million in grants across the continents of education, human services, the humanities and civic life.

Always, these grants have served the McCune family’s philanthropic goals of enhancing the region’s competitive advantage, fostering its economic growth and enabling community vitality. These distributions were also made with the knowledge that, per Charles McCune’s will, the foundation would donate all of its assets to charity by 2029. In 2012, Hank began orchestrating a demanding grantmaking strategy consisting of what he calls “big bets” on major catalytic initiatives.

Hank’s biggest bets usually paid off. Among them were $7 million to Carnegie Mellon University to launch the Innovation Ecosystem Strategic Initiative, which provided seed money for student and faculty-led spinoff companies; $2.5 million to Bridgeway Capital to support small businesses, nonprofits and African American-owned companies; and perhaps one of the most far-reaching: $3.5 million to Innovation Works, which provides early capital to high-tech Pittsburgh-area companies.

That investment has leveraged an amazing $1.7 billion in follow-up funding.           

Ever the strategist, he required these grantees to find matching funds. Not only was he increasing the chances of the projects’ success by getting additional funding, he was attracting others to McCune’s vision.

And that’s the way it has always been with Hank: he brings people along with him.

Long before place-based philanthropy became a buzzword, Hank was a tireless advocate for philanthropy taking the lead in creating vibrant neighborhoods. He was a champion of the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development, now known as Neighborhood Allies, recognizing that safe and healthy communities would play a critical role in the city’s rejuvenation.

It was a prescient move. In the 30 years since its founding, Neighborhood Allies has brought direct investments totaling $100 million to Pittsburgh communities. Add the $300 million leveraged through its partners has been a game-changing force for neighborhood development and increased family incomes.

Then there was Washington’s Landing. Hank was among the early champions for transforming this former rendering plant into a verdant, new urbanist oasis. In 1989, Three Rivers Rowing became the island’s first tenant. Then came the Department of Environmental Protection and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Today the island boasts housing, technology companies and a restaurant. What was once literally a pig sty is now a hub for outdoor recreation that includes a marina, tennis courts and access to riverfront trails used by thousands of bicyclists, runners and kayakers. 

With vision and style, Hank has made a career of making life better for people in Pittsburgh. In doing so, he paved the way for companies like Google and Uber – organizations that look for quality-of-life amenities and a deep, local talent pool when deciding where to locate.

The vision and style he gives to philanthropic projects are also evident in his interactions with people. I may have been a burdensome project to him, but he has been a mentor and a great friend to me. When he leaves in October, another Hank disciple, Laurel Randi, will succeed him as executive director.

Laurel knows the community well, and in working with Hank since 2006, she has been steeped in the three overarching principles that will guide the foundation’s grantmaking to a close in 2029:

1. Leave it better than we found it.
2. Finish well the things we start.
3. Do not start things we cannot finish well.

Beyond their elegant simplicity, what’s fascinating about these golden rules is the way they match Hank’s personality. I hope he will continue to remain involved in the life of this city after he retires. In his no-nonsense stewardship of McCune, he has made the city so much better than it was when he began his work 25 years ago.

Maxwell King is president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation