Business Schools & Entrepreneurship

Business schools have long looked to individual donors as a major source of funding. Thankfully for B-School development offices, many have a wealthy alumni base to draw from, and business school graduates are often willing to support the institutions that laid the foundations for their financial successes. A growing number of donors are also interested in giving specifically for entrepreneurship programs that are usually—although not always—housed at business schools. 

Here at IP we have reviewed major business school gifts from individual donors over the past few years and are analyzing new such gifts on an ongoing basis. This guide explores who's making the gifts, what schools are getting the money, and what strings are attached to those million-dollar-plus checks.

Who's Giving?

One would think that major gifts to business schools come primarily from alumni and, for the most part, that is what we found. On the rare occasion in which donors give to multiple schools, and schools other than the donor's alma mater, they tend to maintain a tight geographical spread, keeping their gifts aimed at business schools within one state or small region.

Unlike people who give scholarships, a category peppered with donations from faculty, deans, and presidents who write checks to their own schools, big business school gifts are different. It's rare to see a significant gift to a business school from an employee who works or has worked there. 

In early 2016, Harlan A. Helvey gave $15 million to the University of Southern California to renovate the building that houses the Leventhal School of Accounting, which is part of the Marshall School of Business. Armed with a Trojan education, Helvey became a certified public accountant and real estate investor.

In the fall of 2015, Steven Grossman gave $20 million to his alma mater, the University of Vermont, which named the business school in his honor. The money will pay for three endowed academic positions and provide resources to support teaching and program priorities.

Marion Anderson recently gave $100 million to UCLA's Anderson School of Management. Anderson is the wife of late businessman John Anderson, for whom the business school is named. The $100 million will be split with $60 million establishing an endowment for financial aid, faculty stipends and research, and the remainder paying for a new building.

In the Fall of 2015, Little Caesars Pizza founders Michael and Marian Ilitch gave $40 million to Wayne State University toward a new business school building called the Mike Ilitch School of Business.

At the end of 2015, Roger Davis and his wife Julie pledged $7.2 million to the University of Kansas's business school to create the Center for Figure Sense, which will teach students how to use complex data to make better business decisions. Davis earned a bachelor’s in accounting and business administration from the university in 1972.

Conrad Presbys gave $20 million to Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, establishing student scholarships, endowed faculty chairs, and a new career services center. Presbys, who graduated from Indiana in 1955, is president of Progress Construction and Management in San Diego.

Allen and Kelli Questrom recently gave $40 million to Boston University’s management school, which will be renamed the Questrom School of Business. The gift will endow new professorships and provide new classroom space.

Real estate mogul Jay Shilder recently pledged $69 million to his alma mater, the University of Hawaii, and its Shidler School of Business. Shidler started pumping money into the school back in 2006; his initial $25 million pledge prompted the university to rename the school in his honor.

Among major donations we examined, only a handful of employees at recipient institutions made the list: Villanova University School of Business Professor Robert L. Nydick—along with his wife, Susan, and two sons—recently gave $2 million to Villanova toward its $600 million capital campaign. The gift established the Nydick Family Business Analytics Fund, and will create the Nydick Family Commons on the business school campus.

Another professor who makes the list is Dr. Narenda Paul Loomba, a professor of management at the City University of New York, who wrote a $3 million check to the department of management at the school’s Zicklin School of Business. And at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, Dr. Sridhar Tayur and his wife gave $1 million for construction of the school’s new building.

As a general pattern in giving to higher education, alumni are almost always the ones making seven- to nine-figure donations. The largest donations of $100 million or more tend to go to bigger name business schools such as Columbia's $100 million from Ronald Perelman and University of Michigan's Ross School of Business's second gift of $100 million from Stephen Ross.

In fact, Ross actually awarded $200 million to the University of Michigan system, but only half of that money was designated for the business school. The other half went to the Wolverines' athletic program. This is the second time Ross, who graduated from Michigan in 1962, has given big to his alma mater; in 2004, he pledged $100 million to build a massive business school  facility bearing his name. Counting a few other scholarships Ross set up prior to his 2004 gift, this donor has given nearly $313 million to the University of Michigan. This latest $100 million earmarked for the Ross School of Business will go toward “…attracting faculty and students, as well as fund[ing] the school’s innovative programming.” Ross graduated from Michigan with a BBA in 1962.

Carnegie Mellon alumnus and hedge fund billionaire David A. Tepper gave $67 million to construct a new quadrangle, home to his Tepper School of Business. Tepper's total contributions to Carengie Mellon are up to at least $125 million in the past decade.

Ernest Rady recently gave $100 million to University of California San Diego's business school. His earlier $30 million gift created the university's Rady School of Management. 

Alfred and Judy Warrington gave $75 million in 2014 to the University of Florida’s business school to endow professorships, other faculty expenses, and summer graduate studies. The couple are longtime donors to the school. 

Individual gifts to B-Schools from non-alumni don’t occur very often. But when non-alumni do make such donations, their gifts are typically as large as alumni contributions. 

Ronald Perelman recently wrote a large check to Columbia Business School. His millions are going toward the construction of the school’s Manhattanville campus, a project expected to take 20 years to complete. One of the school’s new buildings will be named the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Business Innovation. Perelman did not attend Columbia — he’s a Wharton man himself — but his children were Columbia students and Perelman has maintained a seat on Columbia’s Board of Overseers since 1994.

Another example is Abraham Mitchell’s $50 million donation to the University of South Alabama. Half the money is for endowed scholarships in all fields of study at the university, while the other $25 million is allocated to the Mitchell College of Business. Neither Abraham Mitchell, nor any members of his family (as far as we can tell) attended the university, but he does have a family tie to the university. Mitchell’s brother Mayer sat on the university’s board for over three decades; after he died in 2007, Mayer’s wife Arlene assumed his seat.

Increasingly, donors are interested in arming people with business skills and fostering entrepreneurship. Not surprisingly, they often have business backgrounds with entrepreneurial experience starting and investing in different companies.  Recently, Carnegie Mellon University received $31 million from alumnus and venture capitalist James R. Swartz and his wife Susan to create the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship. Swartz got his undergraduate degree from Harvard University before earning a master's degree in Industrial Administration at Carnegie Mellon. 

In yet another example, Jeff and Karen Miller gave $25 million to Santa Clara University's Center for Science, Technology, and Society — now renamed the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Jeff Miller, a longtime venture capitalist, is an alumnus.

Who's Getting?

A few Ivy Leaguers make the list including Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania, but state universities are the runaway favorite recipients of individual gifts to business schools.

Major Universities

If we were to divide the major business school gifts by geographic area, east coast schools received the larger number of checks written. However, southern schools received fewer checks, but more money—even including Ron Perelman’s $100 million to Columbia. Let’s take a look at how that shakes out.

No individual donor wrote a nine-figure check to a single school in the south, but there were some pretty hefty donations: 

  • Leslie and Pam Muma gave $25 million to USF Tampa School of Business.
  • Kate Tiedemann gave USF-St. Petersburg's College of Business $10 million.
  • Alfred and Judy Warrington gave $75 million to the University of Florida’s business school.
  • Abraham Mitchell wrote a check to the University of South Alabama for $50 million.
  • Raymond Harbert gifted Auburn $25 million.
  • Paul Foster gave Baylor $35 million.
  • Charles and Patsy Collat donated $20 million to the University of Birmingham.

Outside of Perleman’s $100 million, east coast schools major donation numbers look like this:

  • Steven Grossman gave $20 million to University of Vermont.
  • Allen and Kelli Questrom gave $40 million to Boston University’s management school.
  • Larry Robbins gave $7.5 million to Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Mario Gabelli gifted Columbia $15 million.
  • William Berkley wrote a check to NYU for $10 million.
  • The Connell Family donated $10 million to Harvard. 

As far as the rest of the nation’s business schools are concerned, individual gifts still remain pretty squarely within the campuses of state schools including University of California Los Angeles, University of Hawaii, Indiana University, University of Illinois, New Mexico State, the University of Kansas and the University of Washington. The private University of Southern California has also been a big winner.


B-Schools within colleges are, unfortunately, the clear loser in this giving space. Only a single $1 million plus gift has been recently awarded to a community college. That lone check was written to Richland Community College by Dell and Evelyn Carroll. The Carrolls' $1.7 million gift will be used to renovate Richland’s Business Education Center.

What Are the Gifts For?

The overwhelming majority of B-School funds from individual donors are earmarked for new construction and renovations. The biggest gifts for major B-School construction and renovation include Paul Foster’s $35 million to Baylor, Paul and Sandra Edgerley’s $10 million to the University of Kansas, and Mario Gabelli’s $15 million to Columbia.

Second favorite after new construction and renovation are chair and professorship endowments. A few examples include Jay and Jeanne Benet’s $1.65 million to the University of Rochester for an endowed professorship in finance and J. Spencer and Patricia Standish’s $1.5 million gift to the State University of New York, Albany, to endow three professorships in its business school.

Occasionally, we find major donations to scholarship funds such as William Berkley’s $10 million to NYU. Berkley’s gift is one of those extremely rare cases in which the entire $10 million is earmarked exclusively for grad student scholarships.

How the Gifts Happen

Business school deans tend to team up with the university’s president to cultivate relationships with individual donors. Though a university’s president may have a higher position, but it’s the B-School deans who almost always take the lead when wooing major donors and making the big ask. University presidents and a few individual donors also are happy to give the B-School deans all the glory when landing big fish donors. For example, in a University of Michigan press release, Stephen Ross, speaking of dean Robert J. Dolan, credited Dolan's leadership, vision and "great salesmanship" for convincing him to make the $100 million gift.”

What Strings are Attached?

As mentioned previously, a large portion of individual B-School donations are designated for new construction and renovations. It's no surprise when one or more of the new or newly renovated buildings are named after the donor.

    Occasionally, B-School donations that fall in the eight- to nine-digit range are be doled out over a number of years, though this isn’t exclusively the case. Raymond Harbert’s $10 million to Harvard was paid outright as was Stephen Ross’ $100 million to the University of Michigan.

    Insights & Tips

    Individual giving to business schools is just as personal as it is in any other area of higher ed giving. Individuals give to heavily, and almost exclusively to their alma maters. Those giving the most tend to have graduated in or around 1972, representing a relatively younger cohort of individual alumni donors compared with other types of giving in higher education.

    Of the recent major individual gifts awarded, less than 20% were from non-alums. Those donors tend to have a connection with the school, whether it’s a board seat or kids who attend or have graduated from the school. Rarely, if ever, are large B-School donations from someone who has zero connection with the school.