Power 2008: The Elements of Influence

The 50 most powerful people in town, as ranked by the most powerful people in town.


Case Study: Paul Grogan, president and CEO, the Boston Foundation

IN NEW YORK, power is money; in L.A., it’s fame. In Boston, it’s philanthropy. “It’s fundamental to how we think of ourselves as a city,” says Geri Denterlein, founder of Denterlein Worldwide Public Affairs, a stalwart of the scene. “It’s central to our self-image.”

Few understand this better than Paul Grogan. Since taking the reins at the Boston Foundation in 2001, the former aide to mayors White and Flynn has doubled the foundation’s assets to nearly $1 billion and shifted it into a policymaking force — taking the lead on pilot schools, affordable housing, and inner-city crime, to name a few. Currently, Governor Patrick is using a foundation study to support his push to reform the state’s controversial criminal-records law. “[Grogan] is absolutely key to the progress that this city is trying to make,” says Jack Meyer, founder of Convexity Capital Management and a Boston Foundation board member.

Grogan frequently turns up as a possible mayoral candidate, and while he has pledged not to run in ’09, that’s done little to ease the long-standing tension between him and Mayor Menino. He is “very interested in being a leader, and being viewed as a leader,” says Cindy Rizzo, a former foundation director of grantmaking. “He’s strong-willed, and the mayor’s strong-willed. That’s a difficult dynamic.” The friction springs in large part from the media’s affinity for Grogan, a prodigious (and often bracingly candid) quote machine. “The press has made him viable by talking about him all the time,” says one political insider, “and he’s made himself viable by being smart, and by playing himself well politically.” Indeed, it’s a testament to Grogan’s clout that he’s the one potential threat the mayor can’t publicly move to squash: The veritable cloak of benevolence makes him politically bulletproof. —Joe Keohane

Case Study: New England Sports Ventures

For two years now, media critics have been up in arms over the Globe‘s fawning coverage of Red Sox Destinations travel packages, Eagle Destinations travel packages for BC athletics, and, most notably, NASCAR’s Roush Fenway Racing team. All of which are owned by John Henry and company’s New England Sports Ventures (NESV), and by extension the New York Times Company, which — hence the squeals — owns both the Globe and a stake in NESV. “It’s obnoxious,” says one local sports industry veteran. “It wouldn’t have happened in the old days.” Such gripes miss a crucial fact, though: When you’ve assembled the devastatingly effective machine that Henry has, you get to write your own rules.

Along with the travel packages and the NASCAR team, New England Sports Ventures also encompasses the Red Sox and the team’s marketing arm, Fenway Sports Group, as well as Fenway Park and New England Sports Network. It makes for a ton of leverage, and Henry’s people aren’t shy about using it. For years, they quietly worked to stall developer John Rosenthal’s plans for his Kenmore property, relenting only once his designs were more to their liking (and after they’d acquired a stake in the project). When not busy reshaping the city blocks around the stadium, NESV is jacking up Sox ticket prices — already the priciest in baseball before they went up another 9 percent this year — to scant complaints from the true believers helping to fund the Epsteinian master plan that looks likely to ensure winning teams (and continued hikes) well into the future. In a further demonstration of synergistic prowess, Fenway Sports Group also takes on its own advertising clients, many of whom are already in partnership with the Sox. In the spring of 2005, after longtime Sox advertiser Dunkin’ Donuts hired it to develop a campaign for iced lattes, Fenway Sports Group dreamed up a spot starring Johnny Damon and Theo Epstein that aired in a seemingly endless loop on NESN during games. This spring, it’s Jonathan Papelbon hawking the new line of Dunkin’ flatbread sandwiches and personal pizzas.

With Boston College as another big client, NESV has access not only to New England’s baseball fans, but also to local students. Throw in the NASCAR crowd drawn by Roush Fenway, and John Henry is building a coalition broad enough to support a run for office. If he ever does, he’ll already have his campaign infrastructure in place. —Jason Schwartz