James Crown, scion of a wealthy Chicago family who held senior positions at companies as diverse as General Dynamics, Sara Lee and JPMorgan Chase, and who became a crucial early supporter of an up-and-coming politician named Barack Obama, died in Woody Creek, Colo., on Sunday, his 70th birthday.
Crown’s family said in a statement that he was killed in a car accident at Aspen Motorsports Park racetrack. The statement did not provide further details about how he died.
Mr. Crown was the CEO of Henry Crown & Company, the family’s private investment firm. The company is named for his grandfather, the son of a Lithuanian sweatshop worker, who built a family business selling sand, gravel, lime and coal into a multibillion-dollar Chicago business empire.
James Crown was also a principal director and major shareholder of the defense and aerospace company General Dynamics; a former president of sara lee who helped break the company into food and beverage divisions; and a member of the board of JPMorgan.
An avid philanthropist, Mr. Crown met Mr. Obama in 2003, as he was preparing to run for the US Senate in Illinois, and became an enthusiastic supporter.
Obama had been defeated in a 2000 congressional race against the Democratic incumbent. His advisers said he needed a greater connection with Chicago’s Jewish voters. They also said that he needed money, and Mr. Crown provided both.
“I was captivated by his sensitivity, his intelligence, his values and how he conducted himself during that campaign,” Crown told The New York Times in 2007.
Mr. Crown and his family donated a total of $112,500 to Mr. Obama during the Democratic primary, and Chicago Jewish leaders raised hundreds of thousands more during the campaign. Mr. Obama won the primary, then defeated Alan Keyes for the Senate seat and began the national political race that would take him to the White House.
A few years later, Crown became Obama’s main presidential fundraiser in Illinois. When Obama ran for president in 2008, he released a list of appropriations he had obtained as a senator, including $750,000 to help renovate a space center named after Henry Crown at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.
In 2014, Mr. Obama appointed Mr. Crown to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, an independent group that advises the President on the effectiveness and objectives of US intelligence agencies.
“When Barack was still an unlikely candidate for the US Senate, Jim became one of his fiercest defenders and most insightful advisers,” Obama and his wife, Michelle, said in a statement. statement on Monday. “He believed in our family and worked hard to convince others across Chicago that they could too.”
Another beneficiary of Mr. Crown’s generosity was the University of Chicago, where served as chairman of the board of directors from 2003 to 2009. The university named its school of social services the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice after Mr. Crown and his wife, Paula, donated $75 million in 2021.
After Obama left the White House, Crown continued to socialize with world leaders, including President Biden, whom she saw last week at a state dinner for India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Jim lived a great story in Chicago, one that linked our nation’s industrious past with an ever-hopeful future,” Biden said in a statement. statement. “He grew up the great-grandson of a sweatshop worker whose son turned a construction supply company into an empire. Throughout his own career as a business and civic leader, Jim continued to carry on that legacy.”
Mr. Crown was a director of Bank One, a consumer banking giant in the Midwest and South, from 1991 until 2004, when JPMorgan acquired it in a deal valued at about $58 billion. He remained a member of the board after the merger.
Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chairman and CEO, wrote in a statement that Mr. Crown “has been a trusted advisor to me for nearly 20 years, playing a key role in helping our company overcome numerous business and economic challenges.” .
Mr. Crown and two other board members, David Cote and Ellen Futter, received criticism in 2013 after JPMorgan lost more than $6 billion in a bet on credit derivatives. The loss attracted scrutiny by federal regulatorscalls for stronger risk management and intense criticism of Mr Dimon.
James Schine Crown was born in Chicago on June 25, 1953, the son of Lester and Renée (Schine) Crown. His mother also comes from a wealthy family: His father, J. Myer Schine, made a fortune in real estate and hotels, and serves as director of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and created an honors program at the Syracuse University.
Lester Crown was for many years the largest shareholder in General Dynamics. Under his leadership, the Crown family became minority owners of the Chicago Bulls and New York Yankees.
The Crown family fortune began with Henry Crown, James’s grandfather, born Henry Krinsky, whose father changed his surname to Crown when Henry was a boy. Henry dropped out of school in the eighth grade and, with his sister, eventually started the family building supplies business, which expanded into railroads, meatpacking plants, hotels, and, for a time, a major interest in the Empire State Building. .
In 2020, forbes magazine ranked the Crown family as the 34th richest in the United States, with an estimated value of $10.2 billion.
James Crown is a 1971 graduate of New Trier East High School in Winnetka, Illinois (now part of New Trier High School). He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., in 1976. After earning a law degree from Stanford, he began working for Salomon Brothers, the New York City investment bank.
In 1983, he became a vice president at Salomon, where he met Paula Hannaway, an investment banker. They were married in 1985 and moved to Chicago, where Mr. Crown joined his family’s investment firm.
In addition to his wife and parents, Mr. Crown is survived by two brothers, Steve and Daniel; four sisters, Patricia (known as PC), Susan, Sara, and Janet Crown; three daughters, Torie, Hayley, and Summer Crown; a son, W. Andrew Crown; and two grandchildren.
Mr. Crown, who owned a home in Aspen, was also an avid skier and managing partner of the Aspen Skiing Company, which operates a resort.
The family’s statement did not say what Mr. Crown was doing at Aspen Motorsports Park when the accident occurred. Parks website says the members meet twice a week to race, usually a qualifying session followed by two races featuring “fast-paced wheel-to-wheel action” in “Spec Racer Toyotas”.
The racetrack did not respond to phone calls or an email.
Mr. Crown recently began an effort to address gun violence in Chicago by encouraging city business leaders to create thousands of jobs in underserved areas of the city, providing millions of dollars for civil violence intervention programs and propping up law enforcement and low-income communities. .
He said the effort would help Chicago’s upper class as well as low-income residents.
“You have altruism,” said Mr. Crown The Chicago Sun Times. “But you also have the enlightened self-interest of: I want to be safe, I want my workers to come to work, I want tourists to patronize my business, whatever it is.”
Emily Flitter contributed to this reporting.