Michael Forman — the Philly Power Player You’ve Never Heard of — Is About to Make Some Noise

Michael Forman — the Philly Power Player You’ve Never Heard of — Is About to Make Some Noise


As CEO of FS Investments, he has quietly amassed powerful friends and lots of money. Now, he says, he’s finally ready to step forward and use all of that to fix Philadelphia’s problems. Michael Forman. Illustration by Wayne Brezinka “My dominant character trait is I’m really, really impatient,” Michael Forman says.

It’s a Tuesday evening in February, and Forman, CEO of Philly financial firm FS Investments, is giving a talk at the Center City co-working-space-meets-gym-meets-after-hours-hangout known as the Fitler Club . Forman, one of the private club’s founders, has a spot on the calendar reserved for his monthly “Lessons Learned with Michael Forman” discussion, a TED Talk-y symposium aimed at the ambitious yuppie business types who make up a good chunk of the club’s membership. Forman sits front and center in an airy industrial-chic room with concrete pillars and exposed ventilation ducts that normally serves as the club’s co-working space but has been converted into a kind of auditorium. He proceeds to hold court for an hour, walking through his life story, sharing his “thesis on life” ( Luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparation ), playing the business shrink to audience members seeking advice (“I feel guilty if I don’t work all the time; at what point can you be too disciplined?” one person asks), and pontificating on politics and the state of the city.

Suddenly, there’s a digression. The conversation has turned inward. Someone in the crowd begins grilling Forman about his personality.

“So you’re a persuader?” a guy in a dark suit asks.

“Yeah,” says Forman.

“What’s your energy level?”

“Mid to high.”

“What’s the number?”


“Eighties, yeah, ” the guy says knowingly.

To everyone in the audience not employed by FS Investments, this interaction can’t make much sense. Realizing this, Forman, who’s 61, with a gray stubble beard, a bald head, and rectangular tortoiseshell glasses that give him the look of a Steve Jobs/Jeff Bezos hybrid, offers some context. FS employees, he explains, take a personality assessment that measures various attributes, some of which are linked to letters of the alphabet. Then Forman shares who he is: His “A” (dominance) is higher than average; his “B” (extroversion) is really above average; his “C” (patience) is “really low”; and his “D” (detail-oriented-ness) is “in the middle, so it moderates the extroversion and impatience.” Behold: the quantitative Michael Forman.

Whether or not you take stock in such abecedarian personality metrics, this much is indisputable: Michael Forman is someone you should know about.

He’s built an incredibly successful business in FS Investments and was one of the first to bet on the Navy Yard, siting his firm’s headquarters there nearly a decade ago. He has amassed, along with his wife, Jennifer Rice, one of the city’s great art collections and become a leading arts philanthropist, recently announcing a $3 million grant through the Forman Arts Initiative to support emerging artists of color and arts nonprofits amid the pandemic. He’s served on the boards of some of the city’s top institutions: Drexel University, the Barnes Foundation, the Franklin Institute. He’s got powerful friends: Drexel president John Fry, venture capitalist turned state banking secretary Richard Vague, Campus Apartments CEO David Adelman. He has the ear of politicians at multiple levels of government: Mayor Jim Kenney, City Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, State Senator Vincent Hughes. But despite all this, Forman remains a relatively obscure figure — more white-on-white Robert Ryman canvas than Jackson Pollock. “I’ve tried to ride under the radar screen for a long time,” he says. Forman with wife Jennifer Rice at their daughter’s bat mitzvah / Photograph courtesy of Michael Forman That’s starting to change. For the past two years, Forman has been quietly convening a group of city civic and business leaders on Saturday mornings to talk about what they see as Philadelphia’s biggest issues and how they might solve them. (In the city’s siloed business community, this qualifies as a big deal.) If there’s a central concept to the Saturday Morning Group, as it’s known, it’s that business leaders need to reimagine their role in the city and exert considerably more influence in shaping everything from policy to public opinion. The same might be said of Forman himself. “I think one of the challenges in Philadelphia is that we’ve deferred to the political class to try to solve the problems that we have,” he says. “And I don’t think they’ve been successful over the last number of years.”

Forman has amassed an impressive roster of 70 or so people who agree with that proposition, among them Ryan […]

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