Jerold B. Katz Foundation
Jerold B. Katz has three small signs that sit prominently on his vast desk, all serving as beacons into the soul of the Houston businessman and philanthropist. One sign gives a clue into what drives and inspires the man. It reads "Do It Now." Another speaks of a thoughtful individual who is guided by his ambition. The sign says, "Ask for It.” And the third sign is proof of his focus on action and progress. It reads: "We Do the Impossible on a Regular Basis.”
"My father is a force of nature,” says his son, Evan H. Katz. “He is passionate and driven. He is like the sun behind a magnifying glass. His creativity leads and inspires us with the belief that we can do seemingly unimaginable things. It is this overwhelming belief that produces miracles.” This inspiration led Mr. Katz and his family to make their most recent gift to Houston Methodist - a gift primed to advance the pursuit of life-changing discoveries in the laboratory that will lead to innovative treatments for some of our most critical health issues.
The Jerold B. Katz family's $21 million commitment to Houston Methodist is the largest non-estate gift awarded in the institution's nearly 100-year history. It will provide the sustained resources needed to accelerate effective medical discoveries from the laboratory to the patients who need them.
Jerold B. Katz had humble beginnings, growing up in the America of the 1930s and 1940s. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, he was a child of the Great Depression and his family struggled to make ends meet. Mr. Katz's youth was one of hardship and toil. He took on multiple jobs, first as a youth and into his early adulthood, to scrape together funds for his family. "I sold newspapers when I was 10 years old,” says Mr. Katz, now 85. "I was so cold and so hungry. That feeling, that hunger, never left me. It drives me to this day."
He saved enough to put himself through college and law school at Washington University in St. Louis. In his early 20s, he moved to Houston, arriving in the mid-1950s. He discovered a city with unlimited possibilities.
"Houston was a turning point for me,” Mr. Katz says. "It was and still is a city of opportunity.” In 1957, Mr. Katz founded Gulf Coast Collection Services in a one-room office on Fannin Street. He began modestly and started to collect debts for local law firms and other Bayou City businesses.
This was long before consumer debt existed as it does today, but in 1958 when American Express created its ubiquitous "green card,” it had the potential to change the way Americans managed personal finances. Mr. Katz could see the change the card might potentially bring to the nation. He knew he had to do something bold to elevate his fledgling business.
His son, Evan, tells the story of how his father was 26 years old when he flew from Houston to New York City to propose a collection idea. The entrepreneur walked confidently into company headquarters and asked for "all of their business.” For one week, he was rejected every day by the company's collection officers, but he kept returning until they relented. He promised to save the company millions by collecting the tens of thousands of unpaid debts of less than $25. He was awarded that part of the massive account, and with that, American Express started sending boxes of unpaid bills to Mr. Katz's tiny Houston office. The card's popularity soon soared - and his firm was among the early providers of collection services to the monolithic financial services company.
As he prospered, the major oil companies began issuing gasoline credit cards in the 1960s. Mr. Katz won that business, too, followed by collection work from big banks and large commercial issuers of debt, and then later government collections of student loans and unpaid taxes. His business acumen turned the one-man collection agency into one of the nation's largest business process outsourcing providers, with billions of dollars in collections and more than 10,000 employees in 30 call center sites all over North America and the Caribbean. The company, now known as GC Services, thrives today after six decades of continuous operation. American Express remains one of its clients.
As his business grew, Mr. Katz married and he and his wife Judith began their family, settling into life in Houston. The family's hospital of choice was Houston Methodist.
The family's lives changed tragically in July 1988. Their son, Lenny, a newly minted Tulane University graduate, was injured in a single-car accident that left him in a minimally conscious state. Lenny has remained in that condition for nearly 30 years. With the same fervor and passion that he used to start his company, Mr. Katz and Judith dedicated themselves to finding answers for patients with traumatic brain injury. The Katz family's generosity has provided millions in funding for research into brain injury, metabolic disorders, health care quality and outcomes, and other initiatives at Houston Methodist, Weill Cornell Medical College and other medical institutions throughout the city, state and nation.
"My brother's accident breaks my parents' hearts on a daily basis,” says Evan. "There is no way not to miss him, but we remember him by helping others. In some way, this is how we are able to turn our grieving into something good.”
And this most recent contribution marks the pinnacle of the family's giving, providing a lasting resource to find better treatments, improved quality of life and, ultimately, hope for patients who previously had none.
The extraordinary commitment by the Katz family will focus on advancing promising translational research projects and new technologies that have commercial potential. The gift will help bridge the funding gap known as the "valley of death.” This is where innovative research gets halted in the laboratory, awaiting additional testing due to lack of funds. These critical dollars will allow researchers the time to establish proof-of concept, which is critical to attract investment and development partners. "Our gift was conceived to help speed cures and treatments to people in need. We want to continuously seed future rounds of discoveries that will help advance health care for decades to come” says Evan.
The Katz gift funds three new separate but collaborative areas of research, building upon the Houston Methodist Research Institute’s history of discovery and investment in research and facilities. The areas are the Jerold B. Katz Academy of Translational Research, featuring the Jerold B. Katz Investigators; a Translational Research Initiative fund; and the creation of the Jerold B. Katz Translational Research Infrastructure Fund to build out labs and purchase specialty equipment.
The centerpiece of the gift is the establishment of the Jerold B. Katz Academy of Translational Research, which initially funds eight physician-scientists who will hold a $1 million endowment, as well as the necessary annual operating expenses related to their research. Each investigator will hold his or her position for five years, but retain their title for life, even as they rotate out of the program.
Recipients of the Katz Investigator awards are researchers working on early-stage projects and will be selected through a proposal process by an advisory committee composed of scientific leaders from Houston Methodist and leadership from the Katz Foundation. The advisory committee also will help to oversee and assess progress of the funded projects through a process designed to reach specified milestones according to investment-grade criteria.
The second part of the Katz family's gift dedicates $5 million to the Translational Research Initiative II (TR I II). The Katz Foundation chose to fund a second TRI to continue the model of the highly successful TRI I, a $10 million philanthropic investment pool that supports several promising medical discoveries. TRI II is designed to build added value around early-stage research projects with commercial potential and generate more investment-grade, partnership-ready opportunities. Because TRI II is a matching challenge, it boosts the Katz gift's impact to $26 million.
The third part of the Katz gift establishes the Jerold B. Katz Translational Research Infrastructure Fund, a $4 million endowment fund to ensure the research facility has the most cutting-edge equipment and the personnel to support individual research programs. "Houston Methodist has a longstanding dedication to achievement and a culture of innovative breakthroughs,” says Evan. "Houston Methodist was the home to world-renowned Dr. Michael E. DeBakey and his pioneering work - and this institution continues to see the future with that foresight and conviction of heart and mind.”