[caption id="attachment_211369" align="alignright" width="300"] The success of MBNA helped spur additional investment by the financial services sector in Delaware. PHOTO COURTESY OF MBNA[/caption]
WILMINGTON – For the first time, the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation will not bestow its prestigious Freedom Award on an individual, but instead a business, naming the former credit card giant MBNA as its 2021 honoree.MBNA moved its credit card operation from Maryland to the more hospitable Delaware in 1981 and grew into the world's largest independent credit card issuer and the state’s largest private employer. Led by well-known leaders like the late Charles Cawley and Alfred Lerner, MBNA was the catalyst for many of Delaware’s leading financial services executives today.The dominating 25-year run for MBNA ended in 2006, when it was acquired by Bank of America in a $36 billion deal. Its success and reinvestment are widely credited with helping to revitalize the city of Wilmington, where it was headquartered for many years on Rodney Square.All of that impact may never have occurred if not for the founder of the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, former Gov. Pete du Pont, who signed the landmark 1981 Financial Center Development Act that famously removed interest-rate restrictions.The selection of MBNA was announced Tuesday by du Pont’s son and the foundation’s board chair, Thère du Pont. The award will be presented at an in-person ceremony at the Hotel du Pont on Sept. 16, which the foundation said would hopefully encourage attendees to patronize other downtown Wilmington businesses before or after the event.“This honoree captures both my father’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurial innovation and the priority he placed on job growth,” Thère du Pont said in a statement. “The 1981 Financial Center Development Act was the centerpiece of his efforts to attract employers to Delaware by creating an innovative regulatory environment. MBNA, displaying both courage and vision, was one of the first to take advantage of the FCDA and immediately created a distinctive culture wrapped around service to the customer and generosity to the local community. Its impact on Delaware continues to this day and one wonders whether any of that would have happened without the vision shared by my father and MBNA’s leaders.” The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to continuing the legacy of former Republican Gov. Pete du Pont by identifying and advancing bold and innovative ideas to create jobs and make Delaware a better place to live, work and raise a family.The Freedom Award is presented annually to an individual or organization who has championed a successful idea which has led to economic growth or brought innovation to the private sector. Recent Freedom Award recipients include Charlie Horn, Carol Ammon, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Mike Castle.The selection of MBNA as the Freedom Award winner was reportedly made last year, but the announcement was deferred until this year in order to accommodate the large crowd expected to attend the ceremony.Instead, the foundation honored two “Delaware Heroes” with awards last summer for their work in the COVID-19 pandemic. They were Dr. David Chen, who helped lead the COVID-19 task force at ChristianaCare, and Wanda Rincon-Burgos, director of youth development at the Latin American Community Center in Wilmington, who helped fulfill an unprecedented number of requests for monetary and food support for over 800 families.