As Les Wexner Steps Back From Civic Life, the New Money Emerges

Will deep-pocketed, emerging leaders fill a void in Columbus’ civic scene?

Dave Ghose
Columbus Monthly
From left, Dee Haslam; Pete and Matt Scantland; Sean Lane; Alex Timm

Talk to Columbus civic types, and you often hear the same refrain. What the city really needs, they say, are “owners”—leaders with extraordinary wealth and long-term personal commitments to Columbus. The reason: With Les Wexner’s civic status uncertain, community leadership is increasingly falling into the hands of transitory corporate hired guns. They’re not deep-pocketed, long-term, intergenerational power players who’ve been so critical in Columbus’ transformation over the past few decades. 

As a result, community leaders often find themselves scanning the landscape, looking for candidates who might fill this need. The city’s new tech royalty offers hope: Alex Timm of Root Insurance and Sean Lane of Olive both have the potential to become fabulously wealthy if their companies hit pay dirt on Wall Street (though Root's stock has dipped significantly following its 2020 IPO). Matt and Pete Scantland—the founders of CoverMyMeds and Orange Barrel Media, respectively—are already making waves in the community. Matt is a member of the Columbus Partnership and the Columbus Downtown Development Corp. board, while Pete is deeply involved with local art institutions, making a major gift from his already impressive contemporary art collection to the Columbus Museum of Art in 2021 and serving on the boards of both CMA and the Wexner Center for the Arts. “The Scantland twins have so much potential,” a business leader says. “They’re balanced. They’re successful. They share their wealth. Pete is building what will be one of the major art collections in the country.” 

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But perhaps the most intriguing possibility is Dee Haslam. She and her husband, Jimmy, swooped into town in 2018 and joined with Pete Edwards to buy the Columbus Crew. Sports fans and the city’s civic establishment welcomed the Haslams as heroes, and locals continue to sing their praises, especially Dee’s. Of the two, she’s been the most committed to Columbus, becoming an enthusiastic member of the Columbus Partnership. “Anything we’ve asked her to do, she’s done,” says a Partnership member. In addition to building a $314 million new soccer stadium in the Arena District, a civic leader says the Haslams, the owners of the Cleveland Browns, are gearing up to make some major philanthropic gifts—“to the tune of millions of dollars”—primarily around education in Columbus. 

Some civic types bemoan that the Haslams don’t live in Columbus. But with their extraordinary wealth—Forbes puts Jimmy’s net worth at $3.7 billion—they could fill the deep-pocketed void in the Columbus power structure, no matter where they call home. “They’re wonderful, and they’re solid, and they’re community-minded, and they have the checkbook, if you will,” a business leader says. 

This story is from the January 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.