H. Fisk Johnson has pledged $150 million to Cornell University’s College of Business in what is one of the largest gifts ever given to a business school. The historic gift matches the $150 million given to Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business by Robert and Dorothy King in 2011 and is only exceeded by David Booth’s $300 million naming gift in 2008 for the business school at the University of Chicago. Stephen Ross has given the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business $200 million in two separate gifts in 2004 and 2013 (see table on largest gifts to business schools).
Cornell described the commitment as the the largest single gift to the university’s Ithaca, New York, campus and the second-largest naming gift ever to a business school. The pledge comes less than a year after the university merged a trio of its professional schools — the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, the School of Hotel Administration, and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management — into a College of Business which will now be known as the SC Johnson College of Business.
The 59-year-old Fisk Johnson, the fifth generation of his family to lead privately-held consumer products giant SC Johnson & Son, Inc., as chairman and CEO, knows Cornell well. The great-great-grandson of company founder Samuel Curtis Johnson, he has five degrees from the university, including an MBA in 1984 from the school named after the company’s founder. “Cornell University has been a part of my family for more than 120 years,” he said in a statement. “I hope this gift will serve as a significant catalyst to help grow the reach and impact of Cornell’s College of Business. The goal is to strengthen the College of Business overall, while enhancing its three individual schools and the qualities that make each exceptional.”
LANDING THE GIFT IS A BIG COUP FOR DEAN SOUMITRA DUTTA
The gift is a coup for Dean Soumitra Dutta, who joined the school nearly five years ago from INSEAD where he had been a professor. Dutta had already raised $200 million, broke ground on a new six-story building, revamped the school’s full-time MBA program, launched a one-year tech MBA in New York City along with a dual-degree program with Tsinghua University in China, and recruited some 25 faculty members.
It is also a sorely needed gift for a business school with major ambitions. Next July, the Johnson School will have a permanent home in New York, dedicated space on Cornell’s new campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Within five years, Dutta expects to increase the size of his New York faculty to 18 from the current half dozen who now teach out of temporary quarters in Google’s New York building.
Dutta envisions as many as a quarter of the full-time MBA students on the main Ithaca campus spending up to six months in its New York facilities. Also next July, the school expects to double the physical footprint of the Johnson School in Ithaca with the opening of the new 76,000-square-foot Breazzano Family for Business Education building, the result of a $25 million gift from David Breazzano, a 1980 alum and co-founder and president of DDJ Capital Management.
TWO-THIRDS OF THE $150 MILLION WILL GO INTO AN ENDOWMENT
The school said that two-thirds of the gift, $100 million, will be used to create a permanent endowment “to support the college’s highest ambitions. In the near term, the endowment will provide flexibility for faculty recruitment and retention in Ithaca and New York City; increase the college’s competitiveness for top students through expanded scholarship resources; and develop and expand programs in and outside of Ithaca. These funds will enable new interdisciplinary research initiatives in areas that leverage and enhance the college’s and Cornell’s research strengths – particularly in the areas of sustainability and technology.”
The contribution to endowment is especially needed. A recent analysis of endowments by Poets&Quants found Cornell’s Johnson School trailing 22 other business schools, including Babson College, Washington University’s Olin School of Business, and even Bentley College (see America’s Wealthiest Business Schools). The Johnson endowment of $208 million is a mere fraction of many of the school’s peers, including leader Harvard Business School ($3.3 billion), Stanford’s GSB ($1.4 billion), Wharton ($1.3 billion), Yale School of Management ($743 million), and Columbia Business School ($680 million).
The school said that one new initiative the Johnson gift will support is the SC Johnson Scholars program, which will benefit a cohort of undergraduates in Dyson and the School of Hotel Administration. The program will create academic and experiential opportunities that enhance general coursework, including access to SC Johnson-sponsored immersion programs, mentoring and workshops; domestic and international internships; and shadowing opportunities.
PLANS TO LEVERAGE GIFT TO A POTENTIAL $300 MILLION
The remaining $50 million of the gift will be used as a current-use challenge grant to leverage philanthropic support from others on a 1:3 basis, allowing the college to raise an additional $150 million in endowment and bring the total potential impact of the gift to $300 million. The challenge will have a special focus on faculty and student support, while also promoting innovative programs. Endowment gifts for the college’s three schools or the college broadly will be eligible for the challenge.
“This extraordinary gift will further that goal by creating more diverse and rigorous learning and research opportunities for both faculty and students across the college’s three accredited business programs,” said Dean Dutta in a statement.“It also will help enhance the unique characteristics and strengths of each and support our mission to realize the full potential of Cornell’s business programs.”
Cornell said it will hold a celebration of the gift on campus on Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 11:30 a.m. in Statler Auditorium. Johnson is expected to attend the event with Cornell Interim President Hunter Rawlings, Dean Dutta and President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes. The event will be live-streamed on CornellCast.