Marvin Lender, Vice Chairman, Yale New Haven Health System
That Old Bagel Magic
The youngest Lender celebrates a lifetime of community service (with more yet to come)
By Mitchell Young
Marvin Lender has been a trustee of Yale-New Haven Hospital for nearly a quarter-century. Both hospital President and CEO Marna Borgstrom and her predecessor, Joseph Zaccagnino, are firm in their characterization of Lender as “no yes-man.”
But that turns out not to be entirely true.
Lender, 69 is currently vice chairman of the Yale New Haven Health System and a trustee of the hospital as well. He’s been on the hospital’s board since being recruited by then-YNHH CEO C. Thomas Smith when Lender was just completing an agreement with the Kraft Co. which had purchased Lender’s Bagels two years earlier.
Although Lender wasn’t sure of how his experience in the bagel business was going to make him a good trustee, he was sure of one thing: He had a clear responsibility to give back to the New Haven community and he was looking for the best way to do it.
“I thought a lot about what kind of institution [I] could serve in that would have the greatest outreach to people,” Lender recalls. “With the hospital, we touch so many individuals it’s mind-boggling. The thing I liked the most about it is not just the numbers, but no one is ever locked out.”
Members of the Lender family, he says, “grew up knowing how fortunate we were and built this company that afforded us things we never thought we’d have. That came as a result of being in a community and a country that allowed us to do it. My father and mother always taught us that we had a responsibility to give back.”
With that Lender did indeed say yes to the request/assignment, and it would be the first of many times he would come to be counted on as Yale-New Haven grew from a regional teaching hospital into a “world-class medical institution.”
The story of how Harry Lender, a Polish Jewish immigrant, came to America in 1927 by himself, eventually bringing his wife and three children, adding to that family in New Haven, starting a bagel bakery in Westville that eventually rose to be the largest in the country, is something of a local legend.
The youngest of six children, Marvin Lender was more than 20 years younger than his oldest brothers, both of whom were born in Poland. He and brother Murray would eventually become the team and public face of Lender’s Bagels. The company’s prospects soared in the 1970s and ‘80s with their innovative to freeze and ship bagels nationwide.
When Marvin Lender returned from Syracuse University Where he would later become a trustee — the first of the children to have a full, four-year college education — he had to convince his family to let him join the then still small bagel business.
Lender would eventually become the inside man running the operations of the bakery. Inspired by the success of pizza, older brother Murray saw that his family’s ethnic offering could also win universal appeal. Lender’s came to be the largest bagel company in America.
In 2005, as Borgstrom was moving up from chief operating officer to CEO, Yale-New Haven found itself in the crosshairs of a national union organizing effort and receiving tons of negative press even as it was pushing ahead on the development of the Smilow Cancer Hospital in the face of stiff political cross-currents.
Of his role as a hospital trustee, Lender says, “When things are not as they are supposed to be, they will hear from me. However, they [Zaccagnino and then Borgstrom] have the final decision. They are running the hospital. But they’ve been receptive and we have honest open, relationships. It’s an approach that helped keep personal relationships from fraying, even as they all faced difficult times.”
Julie McNamara, president of Albertus Magnus College and current chair of the Yale New Haven Health System board, has served with Lender for more than two decades on the panel. “Marvin's service is ever characterized by the great fidelity and generosity that are associated with his good work and that of [wife] Helaine and the entire Lender family over many years,” she says.
Helaine Lender’s name frequently comes up in conversation with those who know him, and Marvin Lender explains why. “There is no way I could have been so involved without the support of my wife,” he explains.
Borgstrom recalls receiving some timely and important advice from Lender as she was ascending to the top executive job.
“I remember my first big meeting with Marvin [when he was board chair]. I had all these reports I wanted to go over, and he said, ‘I can read those. Let me ask: ‘Do you have one or two key people [you work with] who you can count on to always tell you the truth? Because that’s what you’ll need.’”
Borgstrom recounts, “ I thought long and hard” about her team, and the next meeting she was confident to report she had people she could rely on.
“Marvin helped me see that leadership is often about asking the right questions,” she says.
The strategy and planning for Smilow, the building of Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital (a/k/a the West Pavilion) in 1993 and much of the overall growth of YNHH came under the direction of Zaccagnino, who succeeded Smith soon after Lender came on board.
He too relied on Lender’s business experience and willingness to say yes, when it was time to get things get big things done.
Recalls Zaccagnino: “We worked very closely together on the Cancer Center. [Lender] was chairman of the funding campaign and he was about a lot more than strategy. He rolled up his sleeves and contacted major donors directly.” The old bagel-making magic is still there, and the fundraising campaign recently concluded with $100 million achieved.
In the end Lender sums up his efforts better than we or his many, many friends, fans and supporters could. Speaking of his return from college and his desire to stake his claim in a small business in Westville, he says: “It was always clear to me that I had to be part of a community. Whatever I could do, I was going to do.”
\cutline\’With the hospital, we touch so many individuals it’s mind-boggling,’ Lender says. ‘No one is ever locked out.’
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