Silvers named chair of the University of Miami Board of Trustees

Laurie Silvers was sworn in as chair of the University of Miami’s Board of Trustees on May 27. Photos: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami
By Robert C. Jones Jr.

Laurie Silvers was sworn in as chair of the University of Miami’s Board of Trustees on May 27. Photos: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

Silvers named chair of the University of Miami Board of Trustees

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
A two-time University alumna, successful attorney, media entrepreneur, and philanthropist, Laurie Silvers is founder of the SyFy channel.

Even as the skeptics tried to convince her that a basic-cable TV station dedicated to science fiction would never succeed, Laurie Silvers held her ground, telling the naysayers that there was, indeed, a market for such a channel. 

“I understood the strength of the genre in the world of entertainment,” Silvers, a two-time University of Miami alumna, recalled. “And I knew the advertising dollars would pour in because of the audience such a network would attract.”

It turned out she was right. Viewers in nearly a fifth of the 56 million homes with cable TV tuned in when her creation, the SyFy channel, launched with a prime-time presentation of “Star Wars” in September 1992, becoming the largest basic-cable debut since Ted Turner’s TNT channel.

It is that kind of vision and foresight that will serve Silvers well in her latest challenge. Last Thursday, the media entrepreneur, civic leader, and philanthropist took the reins as chair of the University of Miami’s Board of Trustees, becoming only the third woman to lead the entity that is responsible for governing one of the top private research institutions in the nation.

Silvers and Bass
Laurie Silvers and Hilarie Bass

She succeeds Hilarie Bass, founder and president of the Bass Institute for Diversity and Inclusion and the former co-president of the international law firm Greenberg Traurig.

“Following a year unlike any in our history, this passing of the gavel—from woman to woman—is a first at the U,” said President Julio Frenk. “Laurie Silvers, whose success and service have been fueled by creativity, commitment, and compassion, will offer sound stewardship as the University emerges from the challenges of the past 16 months into a promising future.”

Frenk also said he is grateful for Hilarie Bass’s “unwavering commitment to the University of Miami as we navigated this critical moment in our trajectory and for the passion she brought as board chair to strengthen the institution.”

During Silvers’ installation ceremony, prominent attorney Manuel “Manny” Kadre, chairman and chief executive officer of MBB Auto Group, and Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management, were elected new vice chairs. 

Silvers has served as a trustee for the past 15 years, chairing several initiatives, including the investments committee. Like Bass, she is a School of Law alumna, and it is that skill set as an attorney that she believes will help her thrive in her new role. “It’s being able to focus on the most important points of any discussion or issue, analyzing them, looking at them from different perspectives, and seeing all sides of a story,” she said.

“This is such a tremendous opportunity, a role that carries with it great responsibility,” Silvers added. “I’m thrilled and humbled to be able to serve in this capacity and honored to have the trust from the other members of the board.”

She called the Board of Trustees a dynamic group of individuals, describing it as “innovative, poised to take on bold initiatives, and having an entrepreneurial spirit.”

“Higher education and entrepreneurship are difficult,” Silvers explained. “They’re not cut from the same cloth. And that’s part of what attracts and excites me about this board and this University. They are entrepreneurial in so many ways—wanting to accomplish things that are cutting edge and pursue that which is different.”

Silvers knows better than anyone what it is like to take on novel challenges. Her success as a media entrepreneur came after 10 thriving years as a communications attorney. She admits that she knew little about science fiction when she came up with the idea of starting the SyFy channel. And that’s why she recruited two giants of the genre—Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest science fiction writers of his time, and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek”—to advise her. When it launched, the channel was an unequivocal success. She eventually sold the channel to USA Network. Now, it is owned by NBCUniversal.

“I like the ability to change the landscape, to come up with new visions and push them forward,” Silvers said.

She would go on to build a media conglomerate of radio, TV, cable, and internet. Today, she is co-CEO of Hollywood.com, the majority owner of four Florida FM radio stations, and a co-founder and the majority owner of the global esports organization Misfits—which counts the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, and Cleveland Browns as its minority owners.

The former chair and co-chair of the boards of the Miami PBS station Channel 2 and South Florida PBS, respectively, Silvers also accomplished what others had failed to do for 20 years. She oversaw the merger of Miami and Palm Beach counties’ PBS stations, creating South Florida PBS, the seventh largest PBS station in the country.

A life trustee of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, where she served on the board of directors and chaired its development committee, Silvers continues to serve on the board of South Florida PBS and is on the national PBS Foundation Board. A mentor to at-risk high school girls with the Miami-based Women of Tomorrow, she also co-founded the Promise Fund, which helps underserved breast and cervical cancer patients access health care services.

Along the way, Silvers has never forgotten her legal roots, her alma mater, or the community at large. Along with her husband, she is a passionate supporter of the School of Law, creating an endowed distinguished professorship and funding student scholarships, including one for students committed to public service. The Laurie Silvers and Mitchell Rubenstein Hall, which houses Miami Law’s award-winning clinics, is named in their honor.

It is the student experience at the University that resonates with Silvers. “How many universities encourage students to pursue double majors across multiple disciplines, and how many have a law school, a medical school, and a school of marine and atmospheric science?” Silvers said, noting some of the enticing academic attributes of the University. 

“We’ve accomplished so much and built so many bridges,” Silvers said. “And we’re still a young institution, coming up on our centennial. Yet, we can never say, ‘That’s it. We’re done,’ or that we’ve created excellence in every program. But we’re working hard to achieve that goal.”

As such, one of her primary missions as board chair will be to fully support President Frenk and his leadership team and to help promote the initiatives important for the University—from academic excellence to athletic achievements—all for an ever-brighter future.

During Thursday’s meeting, the board elected trustees Geisha Williams and Marvin Shanken, founder and chairman of M. Shanken Communications, Inc., who are rejoining the board as regular trustees. The board also elected Christopher Chen, CEO of ChenMed, as alumni trustee, and Landon Coles, Student Government president for the 2021-22 academic term, as this year’s student trustee.

Joining the board on June 1, 2021, as ex officio trustees are Carlos Guzman (president-elect, Citizens Board), who is the president and chief operating officer of ATM Global Brands; and Maribel Wadsworth (president-elect, Alumni Board), who is the president of USA Today Network, president of News at Gannett Media, and publisher of USA Today newspaper.