A conversation with Jonathan Plutzik is both inspiring and vibrant. He is one of those people who perceive life as a never-ending opportunity to give back to the community. A Wharton School/ University of Pennsylvania MBA graduate and a BA from Brandeis University, Plutzik gives the impression of being a man full of positive energy, which, added to his outstanding resume, are reasons for his very successful career. As an enthusiastic business leader who is passionate about the arts, literature, and philanthropy, he has a clear vision of how he wants to live his life and what he wants to achieve for others, all, while remaining true and authentic to himself. While sitting in a New York café, the city where he resides, Jonathan Plutzik opened up and talked to azureazure.com about himself, his career, his family life, and what issues are really important for him.
In 2002 while serving as the vice chairman of Credit Suisse he decided to leave the finance industry and head in a different direction. Twenty-five years in different successful positions at Credit Suisse / First Boston may seem like a lifetime, but for Jonathan Plutzik – who was born in New Haven Connecticut in September 1954- it was just a start. “I feel very fortunate for that experience, but I had been there for years, and I thought there must be some other things to do and accomplish. It wasn’t retirement; it was a transition to a new stage in life.”
He then became Chairman of the Board of Firaxis, a computer game company until 2005, when he sold it. That same year he foresaw the opportunity to buy The Betsy Hotel, a colonial Miami Beach, FL historical hotel. He bought the Miami Beach property and after a complete renovation, The Betsy-South Beach has become a haven for the luxury-craving artistic and creative enthusiasts.
In February of 2015, the Betsy was awarded four stars from Forbes Travel Guide for the third consecutive year.Jonathan Plutzik’s inspiration was Hyam Plutzik, his father, a Jewish American poet and three-time Pulitzer finalist in poetry. In 1962 when he passed away, Jonathan was only seven years old, and has vivid memories of him: “I remember visiting him at the University of Rochester, where he was a professor; because he was a poet he had the power of the creative process. People still value his work and a lot of my memories revolve around the power of the arts, language and culture, and how important it is to have this talent”.
When asked about why the arts were at the center of his hotel’s values, he explained his deep admiration for the creative process. “I like sitting in Writer’s Room inside The Betsy Hotel– opened with a grant from the prestigious Knight Foundation- it is a beautiful place we created, very conducive to writing, quiet, and connected to the rest of the hotel, my father’s original walnut writing desk is a centerpiece of the room, which is set up like a New York-style studio apartment.”
For Plutzik, The Writer’s Room is a reflection of what he learned at home. “We grew up in a house that embraced creativity and even though my father passed away when I was quite young, my mother, still alive, was a great support and embraced the creative arts.
We were raised in a place that values people who can write, or do music; we value art as a whole. That is something that I must have absorbed because I carry it to this day. Cultural elements are essential, and I credit my mother and my extended family.” The Writers room has residency programs for emerging and established writers; its purpose is to help authors finish their stories and The Writer’s room sponsors this effort.
Jonathan Plutzik has always been a philanthropist and carefully selects the causes he supports. “It is challenging to make sure we are spending our resources in the right way. We are motivated by real commitment, educating the community, and authentically caring about it”.
He recently supported an impressive list of causes, with “Celebrate your Soul on Solstice” Women’s Empowerment Event which benefited Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, Greater Miami Hadassah, Hanan Arts Cooperative(arts for peace projects), MDCPS Foundation (after school programs), South Florida Cares Mentoring Network, Our Pride Academy, Arts for Learning, Aqua Foundation for Women, Alliance for LGBT Youth, Zara’s Center for AIDS Impacted Youth, Open Carry Project (Cameras not Guns), Leave a Legacy, Arts at St. Johns, Diaspora Art, South Florida Holocaust Remembrance Project, Florida Breast Health Initiative, Honey Shine and the Junior League of Miami. “I like Miami very much, it is my second home and we want to build community here,” says Jonathan Plutzik.
Philanthropy runs in Plutzik’s blood; he is married to Lesley Goldwasser, one of Wall Street’s top female executives and a devoted philanthropist. “My wife, with whom I’ve been for 30 years, is also a financial career person. She was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Africa. We were married there. I am blessed to have a better understanding of the world because of knowing this culture.”
Lesley is co-president of the Plutzik Goldwasser Family Foundation in NYC, one that has as a goal to educate communities and a particular interest in culture, principal owner of The Betsy-South Beach and Managing Director and Global Head of Hedge Fund Strategic Services at Credit Suisse. “My wife is a very creative, intelligent person, she contributes her interest in the arts and fashion and curates all the music in the hotel. At one time we had a third party programming the music and it was never as diverse as hers, she creates a unique musical environment,” adds Plutzik.
He has served at the Jonathan Plutzik and Lesley Goldwasser Family Foundation Inc. since January 2003, is past Chairman of the Board of CORO Foundation NY, an organization that develops skills and master tools needed to engage and empower communities, as well as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations at the UJA-Federation of New York, where he chaired its Poverty Task Force.
Since 2009, he has been on the board member of Fannie Mae, with the objective of restoring the financial market in the US after the financial crisis. He will receive in October an award in Washington D.C for his work with The Bethlehem Project, which helps immigrants become U.S. citizens. His son and daughter, Zachary and Rachel, are deeply involved with Zara’s Center, a cause that helps children with AIDS in Zimbabwe. Zara’s Center began as Rachel’s Bat Mitzvah project and has now evolved into a fully functioning center helping hundreds of children in Zimbabwe.
Jonathan Plutzik divides his heart between New York, Zimbabwe, and Miami. He describes himself as an uncontrollable editor. “ I am not a writer, but I soak it up, I even edit the hotel’s wording, but I can’t take credit for any creative literary works.’ When asked if he is writing a book or perhaps planning to do so he says, “No, but maybe someday.” For Plutzik, it all seems possible, as long as he finds meaning for it and it comes from a place of authenticity. ■