Michael Coslov doesn't easily take "no" for an answer.
He refused to capitulate to the financial challenges faced by the steel industry, and was determined to grow his business regardless of difficult times. To this end, he managed to sell his business three times in the last four years to private equity interests. The last of these transactions was with Onex Corporation from Toronto, Canada. The chairman of Onex is Gerry Schwartz, who is very active in the Toronto Jewish community and has endowed many critical projects in Israel. Schwartz has inspired Coslov by his work in the Toronto Jewish community.
Coslov exhibits that same type of determination in his work on behalf of the Jewish community, and appreciates the "can do" attitude reflected in the new leadership of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
"Federation is the touchstone of the community, so we need an infrastructure that really works," said Coslov, who serves as co-chair of the President's Task Force for the organization. "We have a board and officers and executive staff who all want to see improvements happen. I have all the confidence in the world that our new president, Ira M. Schwartz, is on the right track."
As chairman and CEO of Tube City IMS Corp., which provides raw materials and services for the steel and foundry industries, Coslov is accustomed to doing what it takes to get things done. In the 20 years since he took over the reins of Tube City — founded by his grandfather, a Lithuanian immigrant, in 1926 — he has distinguished himself as an innovator, earning Ernst & Young's 2006 "Entrepreneur of the Year" award in the industrial products and services category.
This entrepreneurial spirit has driven his commitment to Jewish causes for more than three decades. He has been active with Federation since the early 1970s, when a trip to Israel helped him realized the true significance of the Jewish state.
"Going to Israel brought out the fact that we as Jews in the United States are not sitting here all by ourselves," said Coslov, also co-chair of Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas. "As long as there's a strong, viable Israel, the Jewish community around the world and in America will be strong. I think if there'd been an Israel 75 years ago, you wouldn't have had a Holocaust."
On a more recent trip to Israel with Schwartz, he got a firsthand view of the "tremendous impact" that contributions to Federation's Israel Emergency Fund, for which he served as chair, have had.
"I was able to see up close where the dollars are being spent. It's real, it's efficient, and they are doing a super job," he emphasized.
He does acknowledge that his trip uniquely positioned him to see that impact, and maintains that Federation must step up its efforts to communicate to every donor where the dollars go and how they help people — all kinds of people — in need.
'An Open Book'
"The President's Task Force is looking at all of these elements; everything's an open book," he noted. "We're going to see to it that anything that needs fixing will be fixed, so we can have an efficient and effective organization that has great credibility. We want to be able to show that this is a viable and important place to give."
Personally, Coslov says he already has that confidence, having been a longtime contributor to Federation and other Jewish organizations. Echoing the sentiments of many fellow donors, he believes that it is his obligation to give.
"I do feel my philanthropic contributions to the Jewish Community Fund have had an impact, whether it's at the Jewish Community Centers, the Jewish day schools or the other institutions that Federation supports," he said. "Those who are in a position to make a real difference have to do it, because this is a community that needs that kind of involvement — and it needs it now, because if it doesn't happen now, we may never see it happen."
Coslov's philanthropic and volunteer efforts have not been limited to the Jewish community.
He has served as treasurer for the American Red Cross' Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter, and is a board member of the Franklin Institute science museum, the Shipley School, and Penn Medicine. He's also been recognized by his alma mater, Duquesne University, which has honored him for his professional success and commitment to community service by inducting him into its Century Club. And he and his wife, Debra, who is on the board of Bryn Mawr Hospital, are members of Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewood.
But he says his overriding passion lies in making sure that people in the Jewish community do more to help each other. As a member of a task force for the elderly, he says he is especially concerned about cutbacks to core services in the Greater Philadelphia region.
"Jews must take care of other Jews — those who are more fortunate are obligated to take care of those who are less fortunate," he stated. "We can't be so insular. It's not like the early 1900s, when you could see the people coming over on boats and knew they needed help. We get isolated and don't see boatloads of folks in need coming over, but the fact is there are Jews in crisis here, in Israel and all over the world, and it's our obligation to take care of them."
In his typical no-nonsense fashion, Coslov calls on everyone — the affiliated and unaffiliated — to make a difference and help the community.
"I would say to those who have not been involved in our community that it's time to get involved now," he said. "We can't rely on saying, 'Well, someone else will do it,' because no one else will do it. Someone must take care of our children and elderly, feed the homeless and hungry — and it's our responsibility to make it happen."