George Gephart, Jr. ’79: “I am Most Grateful to the Sigma Zete House.”

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Q: Why did you join Zeta Psi in the first place?

A: This is going to be a unique answer for you. I was a member of Zete for one year and, actually, I was the Residential Advisor and became a member during that period of time. I was in my 2nd year at Wharton getting my MBA and my immediate predecessor, Al Blas ‘78, who was a friend of mine from college, introduced me to several of the brothers. When they asked whether or not I would like to join and take on the responsibility of R.A., I jumped at it. I thought it would, in many respects, be a welcome change from the stress of getting an MBA and, at the same time, I would meet a new circle of friends, which indeed I did. I also met my wife there, so I am most grateful to the Sigma Zete house.

Q: What was your favorite memory?

A: There are so many! The idea of living with a small group of guys and just sitting down for breakfast or lunch, and especially dinners with them, really created the camaraderie that extends well beyond simply going to a party or a ball game. Certainly, there were events that were great fun, but it was the friendship around the dinner table that really cemented what was, as I said, a unique experience for me.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with any of your brothers?

A: I certainly do. Locally, I see Michael Scullin ’79, Brian Roberts ’81, Mac Butcher ’89, Jim Bodine ’86, Sid Smith ’78, Edgar Scott ’77 and Bill Conrad ’78.  Many others are on our “Christmas card list.”  What I enjoy the most is that these friends span many different years at Penn.

Q: Tell us about the company you are President and CEO for.

A: I’m President and CEO of The Academy of Natural Sciences. We are a natural science museum and research institute here in Philadelphia and we are now a part of Drexel University. We are Philadelphia’s “dinosaur museum”!

The important preamble is that, after a long career in the investment management business, I found myself in 2010 in a wonderful change for me when I became President and CEO of The Academy, and I led our merger with Drexel University in 2011. It’s created a very powerful combination for us and put us on a growth track. Today, I oversee global research initiatives ranging from a significant amount of work we’re doing in environmental science around the Delaware River watershed to climate change work in Mongolia.  Then, of course, we have a wonderful museum here on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where we introduce about 230,000 visitors a year to the wonders of natural history.

Q: Did your time in Zeta Psi help to prepare you for that role?

A: One of the things that I most enjoyed about Zete was the diversity of its members. I will tell you that, working simultaneously in the cultural and research spaces now, it is an incredibly diverse environment in which I operate.  My challenges range from pitching the largest foundations in the region for funding to managing Ph.D. level scientists, who are much smarter than I, but still need strategic guidance.

Back to the dinner table at Zete, the idea of sitting with folks who are not just from Philadelphia, not just from the U.S., but from all points of the globe - France, the Netherlands, Spain, Nigeria, and the Philippines, to name a few countries, really broadens out your ability to communicate and relate. Those are “skills” you take with you everywhere, and I actively use at the Academy.

Q: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?

A: I’d have to start with, as I said, I was lucky enough to meet my wife, Elizabeth “Pooh” Starr, at Zete in the end of 1978. We’ve been married for almost 36 years and have three fabulous daughters, a great son-in-law and our first grandchild, so I would always start with the proudest thing I have in my life –my family.

From a career perspective, (to take nothing away from the success I experienced in the investment management arena), my work at the Academy has been the most fun and rewarding experience I’ve had, and to have been part of a truly monumental change in this city - successfully merging nonprofit institutions - is a unique accomplishment.

Q: What advice would you give to future generations of Zeta Psi members?

A: I think that my time at Zete, as compressed as it was, gave me an immersive experience in creating strong friendships with a small, and fairly diverse, group of guys. That’s something that those who are current members should never discount.  Those friendships come into play for the rest of your lives.

So, I would say, if there are any words to live by, it is to take full advantage of and be respectful of the gift of living with a small group who really can become lifelong friends.

Q: Just because I have to ask…where is the best place to get a cheesesteak in Philly?

A: *laughs* Oh my gosh. Of course the logical choices are Pat’s or Geno’s, but I would say Jim’s
Steaks on South Street. My youngest daughter would confirm that. So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!