Anita Zucker, a schoolteacher-turned-billionaire, is as grounded and philanthropic as she could be.
Of course, her fortune didn’t appear overnight. She and her late husband, Jerry Zucker, built a family empire from the ground up, starting in the early 1980s.
When Zucker speaks about her husband, her fond memories make it sound as if he died just months ago. Her Southern lilt gently describes his drive, intelligence and generosity.
Married for nearly 40 years, the Zuckers were high school sweethearts in Charleston, S.C. The pair went to the University of Florida together; she then earned a master’s degree from the University of North Florida while he earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
Jerry’s passion for science and technology led to his first invention, a high school project that became part of the first lunar landing module. While he began to build a global business empire with the InterTech Group — now a conglomerate focusing on specialty chemicals, commercial real estate, and manufacturing and aerospace parts production — she was teaching public school.
Eventually she joined the ranks at InterTech, but she maintained a passion for education.
Zucker’s zeal continues today. Her philanthropic contributions can be seen at universities across the Southeast. In 2014 she was lovingly referred to as “the Bill Gates of South Carolina” by Charleston City Paper.
In a speech, Zucker said of her giving: “We were building a foundation and would eventually discover success in business, and that success would unveil opportunities to improve the lives of others, through giving and community service. So over the years as our businesses grew, so did our opportunity to give back.”
Jerry died of cancer in 2008 and left Anita at the helm. Because she worked with him at InterTech as the director of community development, she was knowledgeable about the company culture. She said the most challenging part of taking over was learning the finances.
“I wanted his insights because he knew how to handle the business,” Zucker said.
For some time before his death, Jerry taught Anita everything he knew about their fortune and the companies they owned together.
In addition to global manufacturing, the family has stakes in sports, entertainment, leisure and real estate businesses.
“When he was diagnosed, he worked with me and helped me to gain understanding” of the businesses, Zucker said. “I learned about dealing with finances. The most important thing was working with the talent that we have: How was I going to work with associates, gain their respect and keep them on board?”
She now runs InterTech with her son, Jonathan, and a group of trusted advisers.
Whip-smart, Zucker has a finger on exactly where products are made and where they’re headed. In Atlanta the InterTech manufacturing plant produces aerospace and automotive parts, such as insulation for the wheel wells of an airplane and blankets for the cab of an 18-wheeler truck.
InterTech holds contracts with the Department of Defense and commercial industries alike.
“It’s not what I ever thought I would be doing,” Zucker said with a laugh. “I was a teacher in the beginnings of my life. Was I able to adjust to leadership? Yes. I had led large organizations in our community and nonprofits, including the Charleston Chamber of Commerce with 3,000 members.”
Zucker said she is honored and humbled to be the recipient of the Tom Glaser Leadership Award. Jerry was a founding member of Conexx (formerly the American Israel Chamber of Commerce in the Southeast), and Anita recalled his contributions to the board and the organization.
“The organization has come a long way. My late husband was born in Israel, so the organization’s work with Israel is important to us. We care deeply about Israel and what’s happening with respect to the Startup Nation, patents, medicine and medical breakthroughs,” she said.
The South Carolina-Israel Collaboration, supported by Conexx and InterTech, showcases talent in the fields of biomedical, sustainable systems, transportation, defense and health information technology.
An Israel mission in late January created relationships in jewelry manufacturing, neuroscience, and medical and dental technology. Mission participants attended a cybertech conference in Tel Aviv.
“It is so exciting to be involved at that level,” Zucker said. “The group who traveled with us not only learned about amazing things from a medical perspective, but everyone got (cultural) highlights, including visiting the Old City of Jerusalem. To me, it’s such an important part of the history of Israel and religion in general.”
With family in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, she hopes to return to Israel again this year. “Personally, I’m always in a growth mode, always learning and trying to find opportunities to extend my knowledge and abilities.”
Zucker’s advice to those who inherit a business: “Find a good mentor or adviser you can trust — someone who understands business but will share ideas and help you.”
More About Zucker
- The Zucker family donated millions to the University of Florida and The Citadel, as well as endless volunteer hours to many education foundations in South Carolina.
- Anita Zucker was named Best Philanthropist by Charleston City Paper from 2010 to 2015. The 2016 award went to satirist Stephen Colbert.
- She also has received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, and the Charleston Jewish Federation’s inaugural Light Unto the Nations Award.
- Both Anita and Jerry were the children of Holocaust survivors.