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Donor Tied $45 Million B-School Gift to Rankings Rise

Financier Bennett LeBow apparently tied his $45 million gift to Drexel University’s business school to an improvement in the school’s rankings, according to Bloomberg Markets magazine.

In a just-published story yesterday (May 4) entitled “Schools Find Ayn Rand Can’t Be Shrugged as Donors Build Courses,” the magazine says that Drexel spent years wooing LeBow, chairman of cigarette maker Vector Group Ltd., to get $45 million to construct a new building to house the LeBow College of Business. He first gave Drexel $10 million in 1999 to get the school named after him, but LeBow demanded that the Philadelphia-based university improve its position in business school rankings before he donated a penny more.

Explained B-school Dean George Tsetsekos to Bloomberg Markets: “He is a businessman and looks at metrics and objective measures of performance.” Tsetsekos told the magazine he flew from Philadelphia to LeBow’s office in Miami several times to convince him to make the gift. The dean, according to the story, also sent his best students to meet with LeBow and show him that the school was attracting higher-caliber students.

But Drexel’s full-time MBA program has failed to make the BusinessWeek, Forbes, Financial Times, or The Economist rankings. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked the LeBow School at a rank of 107, a drop of 18 places from 2010. But the results of that latest ranking came out in March, four months after LeBow finally anted up in November.

At a ceremony announcing his $45 million gift, the 73-year-old financier credited the dean’s persistence. “I just want him off my back,” said LeBow. “I wish I had enough Kleenex for all the tears I’ve been hearing from him in the past years.”

LeBow’s $45 million gift was the largest ever received by Drexel University and one of the largest to a business school. A record was set three years ago when David Booth gave $300 million to the B-school at University to Chicago which renamed the place the Booth School of Business. Booth, a 1971 Chicago MBA, built his investment firm, Dimensional Fund Advisors on principles he learned from Eugene Fama at the school. Before Booth’s gift, the largest gift to a business school was $105 million, given to Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 2006 by Philip H. Knight, founder and chairman of Nike.

Other large gifts to business schools include $100 million to the University of Michigan in 2004 from Stephen M. Ross, $100 million to Columbia Business School by Henry Kravis last October, $85 million to the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2007 from a combined partnership of 13 alumni, and $60 million to the Darden School at the University of Virginia from Frank Batten Sr., retired chairman and chief executive of Landmark Communications. John Anderson, a Los Angeles entrepreneur, and his wife, Marion, also have given a total of $49 million to UCLA’s Anderson School of Business.