The Power Fifty 2009

What This List Is: Our ranking of the most influential Philadelphians. What This List Isn’t: A rehash of the usual suspects


A lot has changed since we last ranked Philadelphia’s 50 most powerful men and women, in 2005. Four years ago, we defined power as the ability to get things done (bills passed, jobs created, buildings built). This year, after we surveyed 100 power players and interviewed countless more, what quickly became obvious is that there’s a vacuum in this city right now. Our political scene — once the epicenter of Philadelphia power — is at best bumbling, at worst impotent. (We could barely get permission from Harrisburg to raise taxes on ourselves.) Many CEOs, like Charlie Pizzi (Tasty Baking) and Nick DeBenedictis (Aqua America), are hunkering down (understandably) to spend more time on their businesses. And it’s still too early to make a call on those who are relatively new to their jobs, like Rob Wonderling (Chamber of Commerce) and Timothy Rub (Museum of Art). A few weeks into the process, we were just depressed. Some of us wondered if we could even fill a list of 50. Somebody suggested that we leave the top spot blank.

[sidebar]But then something else emerged: There are people getting things done — maybe not monumental projects, but the smaller-scale stuff that’s still vital to this city and its citizens. So we broadened our definition of power and came up with five archetypes. Transformational is the type of power we considered back in ’05, because there are still people (#2 Joe Neubauer) who have the ability to just make things happen. An Influencer (#18 William Sasso) is well connected and knows how to work relationships to effect change. People with Institutional power (#8 Amy Gutmann) can set agendas because of the jobs they have. Our Lifestyle czars (#5 Stephen Starr) matter to our day-to-day quality of life as Philadelphians. Finally, the few who earn our Willpower distinction (#17 Jane Golden) deserve credit for often transcending their jobs and moving the needle despite obstacles. These labels allowed us to come up with a richer list, a group of 50 with a broader reach over our general well-being, from skyscraper to street level. And that gives us a glimmer of hope.

We’ve included rankings from power lists in 2000 and 2005, and you’ll see there are a lot of “new to lists.” We also noted a few people who might be obviously missing, and why. And, back to that hopeful feeling again, we’ve got a group of up-and-comers we think will be exercising power in the years to come.