Light on the Hill Award offered to Pfizer CEO

The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate has offered this year’s Light on the Hill Award to Jeff Kindler (A ’77), the chief executive officer and chairman of the major pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

The prize is the highest honor that the student body bestows upon distinguished alumni.

Kindler’s office said that the CEO would announce his decision within a few days because he is currently traveling.

“I was told to expect an answer Friday or Monday,” TCU President Neil DiBiase said. “We’re pretty confident he’ll be able to come this semester.”

A Tufts trustee, Kindler has led Pfizer, the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company since December 2006. He joined the company in 2002 after serving as chairman and CEO of Boston Market Corporation and president of Partner Brands, both of which are owned by McDonald’s. Kindler served as executive vice president and general counsel at McDonald’s from 1997 to 2001.

DiBiase said Kindler will be a worthy Light on the Hill recipient and will offer a change of pace from previous winners of the award.

“We’re thrilled at the opportunity to invite him,” DiBiase said. “He really does do great things, and we haven’t recently honored alumni who have done things in science and technology.”

The Senate originally offered the award to Meredith Vieira (J ’75), who declined; the university has since announced that she will deliver this year’s Commencement address. The Senate also looked into offering the award to actor Oliver Platt after Vieira turned it down, but Platt’s busy schedule prevented him from coming to Tufts this semester, DiBiase said.

“We would rather wait to find a better opportunity for him to come to campus when his schedule is more available,” DiBiase said. “The point of the award is to get [alumni] back to campus.”

The TCU president added that Kindler had been on the original list of possible alumni, but the Senate did not expect him to be able to travel to Tufts. “We didn’t think we’d be able to get him,” DiBiase said. But Kindler is already scheduled to come to campus in April for other reasons, so he may accept the award and deliver his address then.

A different alumnus comes to Medford each spring to receive the Light on the Hill Award. The Senate gave the award last year to Peter Gallagher (A ’77), the actor who played Sandy Cohen on the popular television show “The O.C.” and starred in “American Beauty” (1999), among other films.

Other past recipients include actor Hank Azaria (LA ’85), former NBC News President Neal Shapiro (LA ’80) and New Mexico Governor and recent presidential candidate Bill Richardson (A ’70, F ’71).

After graduating from Tufts, Kindler attended Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, according to Pfizer’s Web site. He began his career as a lawyer, eventually serving as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.

Kindler was also a partner at the law firm Williams & Connolly, and he served as a vice president at General Electric before joining McDonald’s in 1997. At Pfizer, he was vice chairman and general counsel prior to assuming the roles of CEO and chairman.

Many groups have paid tribute to Kindler “for his leadership in the areas of pro bono legal services, diversity and corporate social responsibility,” according to Pfizer’s Web site.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), an organization that supports equal justice professionals, recognized Kindler in 2005 for his dedication to pro bono legal work.

“The Light on the Hill Award honors distinguished alumni and … he’s been one who’s done unbelievable things,” DiBiase said.

Kindler joined the Tufts Board of Trustees in 2006 and serves on the Board’s Administration and Finance Committee. His daughter is an undergraduate here.

He also chairs the U.S.-Japan Business Council, Inc., a group that promotes commerce between the United States and Japan. According to Pfizer’s Web site, Kindler is a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. and the Business Roundtable – an association of leading U.S. CEOs seeking to promote global economic growth – among other organizations.

The Senate originally announced during its meeting on Sunday that Kindler had already accepted the award. A miscommunication between the Office of Alumni Relations and Kindler’s office or between the Office of Alumni Relations and the Senate most likely led to that inaccurate announcement, according to DiBiase. He said the Office of Alumni Relations facilitates contact between the student government and alumni.