Why Did This Female Entrepreneur Drop Big Bucks on a B-School She Never Attended?

In recent months, the University of South Florida system has received record-breaking gifts to two of its business schools. The story of one of those gifts, a $25 million gift by the Mumas to USF Tampa's College of Business, is fairly straightfoward. Both Muma and his wife Pam are alums of the school.

But then there's entrepreneur Kate Tiedemann, who recently gave USF-St. Petersburg's College of Business $10 million. She didn't go to USF. She wasn't raised in Florida. In fact, she was born in Germany and her highest level of education is grammar school.

Wait, what?

Weird, yes, and we thought it'd be a good to take a moment to unpack this riddle and reveal whatever secrets it may hold for our friends in campus development offices. Because, let's face it, most schools have a decidedly finite number of wealthy alums and so we're always jumping on stories of big gifts from non-alumni in search of insights and tips. 

Kate Tiedemann immigrated to the United States from Germany via steamship with $30 to her name. She arrived in New York City in 1955 at the age of 18 and found a job working as a maid for former New York governor Thomas E. Dewey. Yes, this is a quintessential rags-to-riches immigrant story.

After working as a maid she took various administrative roles including working as a "Girl Friday" at a business that sold surgical instruments. That company, Storz Instrument Company, is now owned by Bausch and Lomb. Tiedemann rose through the ranks and learned the business until she felt compelled to start a business of her own. In 1975, she founded Katena Products in her New Jersey basement. These days, Katena markets 1,400 products to more than 7,000 surgeons. 

The 78-year old Tiedemann handed over the reins to her company several years ago and moved to Florida full-time after living in the state part time for many years.

So that gets us to Florida and giving that might take place there. But it certainly doesn't explain a $10 million gift to a business school. So what does? 

Well, for one thing, when Tiedemann moved to Pinellas County, Florida she befriended a network of civic-minded women. One of these women, Holly Duncan, formerly served as CEO of the Morton Plant Mease Foundation and courted Tiedemann to give big to that outfit. The foundation serves hospitals under the Morton Plant Mease Healthcare system. In 2012 alone, Tiedemann gave at least $1 million to the foundation where she currently sits on the board. Much of Tiedemann's prior philanthropy appears to have been focused on New Jersey, specifically steady sums to Saint Claire's Foundation in Denville. 

Duncan, working as a consultant for USF, also helped introduce Tiedemann to USF-St. Petersburg brass. She was introduced to campus board member Judy Mitchell, regional vice chancellor Helen Levine, and regional chancellor Sophia T. Wisniewska. Having met this trio and other people, Tiedemann was sold, and, in her own words "decided maybe this is the place to leave my legacy."

So there you have it: a school that's tapped into local civic networks pulling in a donor well along in years and open to a major giving opportunity. As we've said before about non-alum local donors: There's gold in them thar neighbors. 

Legacy appears to be a critical motivator for the gift and a smaller business school allows for Tiedemann's gift to be both headlining and impactful. Tiedemann's fascinating story also is likely a factor. She scraped and clawed her way to tremendous success in the business world and now later in life is giving back so that others can receiving a formal eduation in business and maybe have it a little easier.

It's also worth noting that only a few business schools are named for women. Well, add one more to the list: The USF-St. Petersburg College of Business will be renamed the Kate Tiedemann College of Business. And $6 million of the $10 million will be put toward an endowment. The remaining $4 million will upgrade academic content. 

Related: Campus Cash: Business Schools