What Comes After? Behind a Campus Gift from One of Corporate America's "Most Powerful" Women

 The University of Alabama. Ken Wolter/shutterstock

The University of Alabama. Ken Wolter/shutterstock

Since Marillyn Hewson became president and CEO of defense contractor Lockheed Martin in 2013, the company's stock price has tripled, Fortune named her the 3rd "most powerful" woman in business, and Chief Executive magazine named her the 2018 CEO of the Year.

And did I mention that Hewson famously "tamed" President Trump who had publicly complained about the price of Lockheed's F-35 stealth fighter? Yup, she did that too.

Along with her husband James, Hewson is also a philanthropist. The couple recently donated $15 million to support the University of Alabama's Culverhouse College of Business, which is the largest one-time gift in the school's history.

In the world of modern philanthropy, sometimes a gift is an end in and of itself. Other times, what may come after the gift is the bigger story. Such is the case with the news out of Tuscaloosa.

With a relatively light philanthropic footprint, an elevated status across corporate America, and (presumably) money in the bank—the Washington Post listed Marillyn Hewson as the highest-paid female CEO in 2015, having pulled in $33.7 million the previous year—our guess is that we'll be seeing more giving by the 64-year-old executive and her husband.

I'll attempt to read the tea leaves momentarily. But first, let's take a closer look at the Hewsons' historic gift to UA.

Mega-gifts of this nature typically come from alumni, and not surprisingly, both Marillyn and James attended UA. Marillyn graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and a Master of Arts degree in economics, while James holds a bachelor's degree in communications.

"I am deeply thankful for the strong business education I received at the University of Alabama," she said in a statement. "That education helped prepare me for many of the challenges and opportunities I’ve encountered throughout my career—from the day I joined the company as an industrial engineer to my current role as CEO."

Hewson is also a member of the Culverhouse College of Business Board of Visitors and the UA President's Cabinet. 

The Hewson's gift, like many across the higher ed space, came on the heels of a smaller one. Last year, the couple made a $5 million commitment to support the Marillyn Hewson Faculty Fellows Program in Data Analytics and Cyber Security. The donation also funded two named faculty endowments, an endowed undergraduate scholarship, and a graduate assistantship. (I'll revisit this important gift later in the piece.)

The Hensons' $15 million gift is also another example of a public university turning to the largess of private donors to fund capital expenses, provide scholarships, and keep tuition in check.

The gift came around the same time that Arkansas State University (ASU), flush with four major gifts including a $10 million donation from Texas businessman and alumni Neil Griffin, announced that its fundraising windfall would allow it to keep tuition flat.

Meanwhile, last month, Atlanta couple Gary W. Rollins and Kathleen Rollins gave the University of Tennessee (UT) at Chatanooga's business school $40 million. Like the Hewsons' gift, it was the largest in the school's history, whereas like ASU, it compelled university trustees to avoid tuition hikes at its Knoxville and Chattanooga campuses. 

Gary Rollins, the donor behind the UT gift, doesn't have an extensive track record of giving, and the same, to some extent, can be said about the Hewsons. A review of publicly available information failed to turn up gifts similar to their $15 million to UA mega-gift.

But that was then. The couple has given a combined $20 million to UA within the last year alone. It isn't too much of a stretch to anticipate more giving on the horizon. Should it come to pass, what will it look like? 

For a possible answer, let's turn to the philanthropic priorities of the company Hewson leads.

Lockheed Martin's philanthropic priorities are obviously different than Marillyn and James Hewsons' personal philanthropic priorities. That being said, a review of the former under Hewson's leadership can be illuminating as there are some areas of overlap. 

Back in July, Lockheed announced it would invest $5 million in vocational and trade initiatives as part of its tax reform savings plan, which provides $50 million for STEM scholarships and $100 million for more training opportunities for employees. That effort came after President Trump signed an executive order calling for the formation of a council to drive vocational worker training programs.

"We need leaders in government, industry, and at educational institutions to take a holistic view of workforce development–whether an individual chooses college or not," Hewson wrote in a Fox News opinion piece. "By recognizing the full breadth of the 'skills gap' challenge and the cost to U.S. workers, the president has helped the nation take strong and positive steps."

Last year, Hewson announced that Lockheed would invest $25 million in computer science education over the next five years. This commitment was in addition to $50 million Lockheed planned to invest in other outreach programs focused on STEM fields.

Here we see Lockheed's priorities mirror Henson's aforementioned 2017 data and cybersecurity gift, which aimed to position the UA, according to UA president Stuart R. Bell, as a "premier research center for hands-on data and business analysis that will directly impact Alabama’s economic future and job creation and make the university a national leader on this critical business frontier."

"With the rapidly evolving fields of big-data analytics and cybersecurity, there will be strong demand for talent for many years to come," Hewson said at the time. "With this gift, it is my hope that this institution will have the resources it needs to advance its innovative research and attract further support for its core mission of preparing students for the jobs of the future."

Time will tell if Henson's future giving will revisit the STEM field, double down on a more traditional business education approach, or focus on another area entirely. In the meantime, UA students and alumni can revel in the largest gift in the school's history.

"This is a remarkable gift from a truly incredible, successful and compassionate couple," said Bell. "Their commitment to and ongoing support of our Culverhouse College of Business reflects a confidence in the important teaching, research and service we do every day."