Literal Rags to Riches: Meet the Donor Behind the Largest Gift in This School's History

As we've noted in our analysis of giving to university business schools, the sector is awash in campus cash. 

Indeed, it's a rather elegant cycle. A doe-eyed twenty-something enrolls in business school, graduates, and finds professional success. Ever the grateful alumnus, he or she gives back by cutting his or her school an impressive check.

Such is the case with Richard T. "Dick" and Joyce Farmer and the Farmer Family Foundation.

The recipient of their generosity is the Miami University business school they helped start, the Farmer School of Business. Just how generous? Try $40 million generous. It's the largest of any single foundation or individual in the university’s 207-year history. (Yup, the school's been around since the Madison Administration.)

According to the school, the gift will support "all elements of the Farmer School of Business, including its faculty, students, emerging programs and curricula enhancements and will propel the Farmer School of Business as a leader in undergraduate business education."

How, precisely, they'll accomplish this is an open question. If I were a gambler, I'd wager that at least some component of the gift will build out entrepreneurship-related efforts on campus. It's certainly been an emerging funding area at business schools over the past 12 months. Recent recipients of big entrepreneurship gifts include Michigan State University, San Diego State University, and East Carolina University.

But this is all within the realm of conjecture. Let's stick to what we do know. Specifically, the philanthropic history and funding priorities of Farmer and, to a lesser extent, his somewhat black box-ish foundation, whose priority areas include diseases and conditions, education and human services.

The Farmers' support for the school dates back to 1992, when the family provided the cornerstone gift to the School of Business. Fast forward to 2005, when the foundation announced a $30 million leadership gift through the foundation, of which $25 million funded the construction of Farmer Hall and $5 million was earmarked for faculty support.

Farmer has also served as a member and chair of the board of directors at the school.

Commenting on the gift, Miami University President Gregory P. Crawford said, "It’s this type of vision and leadership that will position Miami at the forefront in groundbreaking programs and solutions that enable all students to excel in the fast-changing global economy."

Since most business school gifts come from alumni, it probably goes without saying that Farmer graduated from Miami in 1956 with a degree in business. 

So to summarize: Alumnus with business degree? Check. Alumnus who has enjoyed professional success? Check? And an alumnus with an existing track record toward the recipient school? Check, check, check.

And so I'd like to wrap things up by drifting back toward the evocative realm of conjecture.

I'm intrigued by how Farmer's professional resume may lend credence to my theory about possible entrepreneurship-related initiatives. According to Wikipedia, Farmer's fortune is "self-made" through his development of the Cintas Corporation. What's more, the company started out as his grandfather's industrial rag-cleaning business.

So not only is Farmer an entrepreneur in the truest sense, he's also the star of a literal rags-to-riches success story.

Clearly this allegorical twist wasn't lost on the man himself. In 2004, Farmer wrote a book titled Rags to Riches: How Corporate Culture Spawned A Great Company.