Tata’s $50 Million To Fund 34th HBS Building

India’s Tata Group and its philanthropic interests gave Harvard Business School $50 million today, the largest gift HBS has ever received from an international donor in the school’s 102-year history. What makes the gift even more extraordinary is that it is from someone who did not even get an MBA from Harvard. Instead, Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Sons Ltd. since 1991, attended the school’s Advanced Management Program in 1975.

The money will go to put up the 34th separate building at Harvard Business School, a new academic and residential building for participants in the school’s executive education programs. HBS hopes to break ground for the building, which will be named Tata Hall, next spring. The school already is like a university onto itself with its present 33 buildings on 40 acres of property along the Charles River. HBS has its own state-of-the-art fitness center, a massive library, a chapel, and several residence halls for students who want to stay on campus. Strategy guru Michael Porter and his Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness even has his own building on campus. There is no other business school that can even remotely match Harvard for its expansive classrooms and study halls.

The Tata gift is among the largest ever given to a business school. Earlier this month, on Oct. 5, investor Henry Kravis gave $100 million to Columbia Business School. That pledge is thought to be the third largest gift ever handed over to a business school. A record was set two 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, $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.

What makes the Tata gift stand out, however, is the fact that it came not from an MBA alum nor from someone in the U.S. as all these other grants. “The Harvard Business School is the preeminent place to be exposed to the world’s best thinking on management and leadership, and we are pleased that this gift will support the School’s educational mission to mold the next generation of global business leaders,” said Tata.

HBS Dean Nitin Nohria expressed deep appreciation for the Tata Group’s generosity. “This is an historic gift from a renowned organization revered for its significant economic, civic, and philanthropic impact. The Tata Group is widely respected for integrity and innovation, not just in India—where it produced both the first indigenous car and the $2,000 Tata Nano automobile—but in a variety of business lines across several continents, from cars to hotels and from tea to information technology,” said Nohria.

The gift will officially come from Tata Companies, the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, and the Tata Education and Development Trust.  A conglomerate founded in 1868, the Tata Group owns 28 publicly listed enterprises across seven business sectors that have a combined market capitalization of $80 billion.

Separately, Harvard also announced today its first lab for innovation and entrepreneurship with the goal of spurring innovative ventures across the University, at Harvard Business School (HBS), and in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood. The Harvard Innovation Lab will open in fall 2011 in a building on Western Avenue in Allston that formerly housed public broadcasting’s WGBH.

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