Joel Z Hyatt (born Joel Hyatt Zylberberg; May 6, 1950) is an American entrepreneur, lecturer, philanthropist, former attorney, and politician of the Democratic Party, most notably as a Party leader, fundraiser, and foreign policy advisor. He is the founder of Hyatt Legal Services, in which capacity he became a household name for many years, as he was featured in his firm's nationwide television commercials which always ended with the slogan, "I'm Joel Hyatt and you have my word on it." Hyatt also co-founded Current TV.
Life and career
Hyatt graduated from Dartmouth College and Yale Law School. He briefly practiced law as an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
Hyatt co-founded Hyatt Legal Services in 1977 as a low-cost legal service, making legal services available to millions of hitherto disenfranchised middle- and lower-class Americans. He later founded Hyatt Legal Plans, which became the country's largest provider of employer-sponsored group legal services, pioneering the concept of Legal Services as a fringe benefit (provided in the same manner as, for example, dental insurance). Hyatt Legal Plans was acquired by MetLife in 1997.
Hyatt was a founding member of the U.S. Senate Democratic Leadership Circle and was a member of that group from 1981 to 1986. He was the Democratic National Committee's assistant treasurer from 1981 to 1983.
He is the son-in-law of former U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH), functioning as campaign manager on Metzenbaum's first two successful bids for the Senate. In 1994, when Metzenbaum decided to retire from the Senate, Hyatt ran to replace him. Hyatt won the Democratic nomination, but lost to then Lieutenant Governor Michael DeWine in the general election in a campaign year in which Republicans swept all twelve of the Senate vacancies and unseated many incumbents.
In 1990, Hyatt Legal Services paid a $157,000 settlement for having illegally fired an attorney in their Philadelphia offices, Clarence B. Cain, in reference to his AIDS diagnosis. Some attribute to this case the premise for the 1993 film Philadelphia, alongside the more renowned Geoffrey Bowers case three-years prior. Hyatt is known to have expressed his disappointment in his own firm's handling of the case, and of its treatment of Mr. Cain.
Hyatt was appointed to the California Public Utilities Commission in June 1999, by Governor Gray Davis. He served six months of a six-year term, resigning in December 1999.
Hyatt served as National Finance Chair for the Democratic party in 2000, and is a business partner of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore In 2004, Hyatt and Gore purchased Newsworld International, a cable news channel, programmed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which aired news programming from around the world. On August 1, 2005, Gore and Hyatt relaunched the network as Current TV, a young adult-programmed news and information service which pioneered the concept of user generated content on cable TV. Hyatt and Gore later sold the channel to Al Jazeera Media Network on January 2, 2013 for a reported 500 million dollars. In August, 2014, Hyatt and Gore sued Al Jazeera for fraud and breach of contract in connection with a residual payment of $65 million that remained unpaid. The allegations were denied by Al Jazeera as "blatantly false" and "potentially misleading."
Hyatt taught entrepreneurship at Stanford University Graduate School of Business from 1998 to 2003 and at Stanford Law school. He is a member of the board of trustees of Morehouse College and of The Brookings Institution. Hyatt was elected to the board of directors of Hewlett-Packard Company in May 2007, and of The RAND Corporation in March 2015. Hyatt is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He also serves on the board of Stanford Hospital.
Globality Inc, based in Menlo Park, California, is Joel Hyatt's current business venture. The company was co-founded by Joel Hyatt and Lior Delgo in March 2015. At its launch, Globality represented approximately 350 consulting services companies in 55 countries.