What Made This Wharton Alum Give Big to Columbia Biz School?

Columbia University is expanding all over the city and its business school is poised to open facilities on its brand-new Manhattanville campus in a couple of years. At the helm of the fundraising campaign for the new campus is Dean R. Glenn Hubbard.

As one would expect, fundraisers set a goal, $500 million in this case, and Hubbard tapped uber-rich Columbia biz school alums to help fund the new and improved school. Omega Advisors CEO Leon G. Cooperman (Columbia Business School '67) pledged $25 million and Henry R. Kravis ('69) pledged $100 million and will have a building in his name. Since taking over in 2004 as dean, Hubbard has raised more than $730 million for Columbia, making him one of the most sucessful B-school rainmakers in history. 

That $100 million pledge by Kravis is the fourth largest ever for a business school. Oh, and there's one other thing. Just last year another billionaire gifted Columbia with $100 million, and this billionaire traces his entrepreneurial beginnings to Wharton, not Columbia. Wait, what?

Wharton alumnus and Revlon cosmetics owner and investor Ronald O. Perelman was primed at an early age for a career in business. His father was a businessman, who made the younger Perelman sit in on meetings when he was just a child. After attending University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business for both his undergraduate and MBA degrees, Perelman worked for his father before striking out on his own. He's currently worth $14.2 billion and was an early signatory of the Giving Pledge.

All of this has translated into a philanthropic career that has been extremely robust. Last year, Perelman didn't just pledge $100 million to Columbia, he also put up $50 million to help NYU's New York University Langone Medical Center to establish the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Emergency Services, and gave out $46 million beyond that. Much of that went to education, but there was also big giving for the arts and social services. 

Almost all his giving is focused on New York, where Perelman's spent the better part of his life. And that focus explains why a Wharton alum might give to Columbia. What's more, Perelman has served on the Columbia Business School Board of Overseers since 1994. So what's going on here is actually rooted in a lot of history and it's likely Perelman and Dean Hubbard have crossed paths since the latter came onto the scene in 2004.

Perelman has been quite tethered to Wharton in the past. His first business deal occurred during his freshman year when he and his father bought a brewery for $800,000 and sold it for $1 million profit. His takeover of Revlon was financed through Wharton alum Michael Milken.

Perelman's $100 million gift to Columbia Business School will be used to develop a new facility called the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Business Innovation. As of the time of the gift, the school was already two-thirds towards its $500 million goal.