Author: Casey Ryan, C’95
Earlier in March, I had the privilege of hosting David L. Cohen, L’81, Chair, Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania & Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation, for an informal reception with Washington area Penn alumni. In collaboration with the Penn Club of Washington and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Advisory Board, we entertained about 50 alumni interested learning more about the chair of Penn’s Trustees.
Brandon Paroly, President of the Penn Club of Washington, and Susan Wegner, Chair of MARAB, welcome the crowd and introduced David. As a part of their introductory remarks, Brandon and Susan shared the mission of their respective alumni groups with the crowd, and between the two of them, they shared a brief summary of David’s career with the audience.
David graduated from Swarthmore College in 1977 and summa cum laude from Penn Law in 1981. In 1982, Mr. Cohen joined Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP. Ten years later, Mr. Cohen resigned his partnership to become Chief of Staff to the Honorable Edward G. Rendell, C’65, Mayor of the City of Philadelphia. In that capacity, he played an important coordinating role in significant budgetary and financial issues and a wide variety of policy and operational issues. Mr. Cohen remained in city government until 1997, when he returned to Ballard Spahr as Chairman before leaving to join Comcast in 2002. At Comcast, Mr. Cohen is responsible for all external affairs of the company and serves as senior counselor to the Chairman and CEO.
David recounted that he became engaged actively as a volunteer at Penn, first as a Trustee of multiple Health System and Medical School boards. In 2002, he was named founding chairman of the Board and Executive Committee of Penn Medicine, the umbrella governance structure created by the University to oversee both the Health System and the University’s School of Medicine. This was during a time when UPHS needed to be taken in a new direction and in his eight years as chair he oversaw the critical decision-making that led to the remarkable financial turnaround of the Health System. Ultimately his work for Penn took him from being a University Trustee and then as chair of Penn Medicine and chair of the Trustees in 2010.
His volunteer experience at the University was built on his commitment and passion for Penn and for the impact that it could have, not only locally and regionally, but nationally and globally. This theme of not only locally and regionally, but nationally and globally is clearly one of David’s mantra, especially since he parallels the University scope and range to Comcast’s, which started out as a small cable company in Tupelo, Missisippi. David’s eye for world-view in everything he does catapults everything he works on moving forward.
He talked about his work at Comcast – in expanding its scope – and about the acquisition of NBC Universal and shared some unconventional knowledge about the two companies. From the time of the acquisition and to this day, Comcast is the larger company with most of its revenue coming from the cable channels like Oxygen, E! and CurrentTV. David also was able to share with us some bragging rights – for the week of ending March 3, 2012, NBC Universal had both the number one movie (The Lorax) and the number one TV show (The Voice). Rarely does any media company in the US hold both number one spots during a week.
What made the evening special was the access to one of Penn’s great leaders. Audience members asked about career advice – how do you get to do what you’re passionate about; the future of Penn; and the means to stay involved with the University. Alumni stayed well past the reception to mingle with David before he left as well as to catch up with friends and network with new contacts.