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Columbia Gets $25 Million Gift

Leon Cooperman, of Columbia’s Class of 1967, is giving $25 million to Columbia Business School

The Sixties, almost everyone will agree, was a time of widespread rebellion, campus unrest and pot smoking. But for Columbia Business School, it also was a time when some of the school’s most successful MBA graduates rushed into the field of finance. And now their success from careers in leveraged buyouts and hedge funds is making a big difference in the school’s future.

Columbia announced today (April 23) that alumnus Leon G. Cooperman, who graduated from the school in 1967 and is chairman and CEO of hedge fund Omega Advisors, has pledged a gift of $25 million to support the construction of the school’s new complex in Manhattanville.

The gift is the second major donation in support of the future campus, which will be part of Columbia University’s expansion just north of its Morningside Campus. Henry R. Kravis ’69, cofounder, cochairman, and co-CEO of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) and cochair of the School’s Board of Overseers, pledged $100 million to the project in October 2010.

Cooperman’s $25 million is among the largest publicly announced business schools gifts, though it’s not in the top ten. Kravis’ pledge, for example, is now thought to be the fourth 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. Last November, Robert E. King, a 1960 Stanford Business School alum, along with his wife, Dorothy, pledged $150 million to Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Before Booth’s gift, the largest single donation to a business school was $105 million, given to Stanford 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.

“I strongly believe that it is my moral imperative to give others the opportunity to pursue the American Dream, and I actively support institutions that gave me such opportunities,” said Cooperman in a statement. “The educational needs of leaders and entrepreneurs have evolved, and the new Manhattanville facilities will support Columbia Business School’s commitment to preparing the business leaders of tomorrow.”

Cooperman, a member of Columbia Business School’s Board of Overseers, has a long history of supporting the B-school. In 2007, he established the Leon G. Cooperman ’67 Scholarship Challenge, which helped to create more than 40 need-based scholarships at the School. Under the Challenge, Cooperman provided half of the funding for each new scholarship created. He also initiated the Leon Cooperman Scholarship in 2000 to support students with financial need, with preference to graduates of New York City public schools. In addition, he endowed the Leon Cooperman Professorship of Finance and Economics in 1995, a chair held by Professor Geert Bekaert since 2000. Mr. Cooperman and his wife, Toby, have taken the Giving Pledge advocated by Warren Buffett MS ’51 and Bill Gates, committing to give half of their wealth to charity.

“Leon Cooperman’s generosity toward the Business School has given students the key to a door that would otherwise have been closed to them,” said Dean Glenn Hubbard in a statement. “Now, he is making sure that these world-class students have facilities that meet their needs. With this extraordinary gift, Columbia Business School will not just transition to a new home, it will thrive there.”

The school’s Manhattanville Campus – designed by renowned New York architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro – will reflect the fast-paced, high-tech, and highly social character of business in the 21st century. The new facilities will create multi-functional spaces that foster a sense of community – spaces where students, faculty members, and external constituents can gather to exchange ideas.

The new campus will also help to broaden Columbia Business School’s various community engagement programs, such as the Columbia Community Business Program, which provides guidance and support to entrepreneurs in West Harlem, as well as several student-run programs that focus on community outreach.