Wharton Alum Gives $100 Million To CBS

Ronald Perelman

Ronald Perelman

Columbia Business School today (May 2) announced that Wharton alum Ronald O. Perelman has pledged $100 million to Columbia Business School.  The school said the gift will be used to develop a new facility that will strengthen the School’s innovations and programs on the university’s new Manhattanville campus.

It is the fourth largest gift ever given to a business school, tying the $100 million pledge made to Columbia Business School by investor Henry Kravis in 2010 and the naming gift to the University of Michigan’s Ross School made by Stephen Ross in 2006. The largest business school gift ever is the $300 million pledge made to the University of Chicago’s business school by alumnus David Booth in 2008.

In recognition of Perelman’s generosity, the business school will name one of its two buildings on the new campus the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Business Innovation. The school said the building will be situated opposite The Henry R. Kravis Building.

“Ronald is attracted to helping New York, where he lives, and finding places where he really believes in the mission,” Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School, told Poets&Quants in an interview. “He didn’t come to me with an interest in a building. He was persuaded in the innovation mission of the school. The building is an essential part of that transformation.”

Hubbard has now raised $460 million toward the $600 million cost for the school’s new business school campus which is not expected to open until early 2018. Since becoming dean of the business school in July of 2004, Hubbard has raised an extraordinary $730 million, making him one of the most successful academic fundraisers in history.

Hubbard said he has known Perelman for several years, but it was only over the last year that the two began discussion the possibility of a gift. “He and I had conversations about what we were going to do and it clicked for him,” says Hubbard. “We had so many discussions about it, but I do remember one dinner where he said ‘I really want to do this.’ That felt good. We still have more to do but it’s a big help.”

What makes Perelman’s generosity to Columbia especially unusual is the fact that he earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 1964 and his master’s from Wharton in 1966. Wharton figured early and prominently in the master investor’s career. His first major business deal famously occurred during his freshman year in 1961 when he and his father bought the Esslinger Brewery for $800,000. They sold it three years later for a $1 million profit. Perelman was one of the most successful users of the high-yield debt (junk) bond market. His 1985 takeover bid for cosmetics giant Revlon was financed through Wharton alum Michael Milken and became one of the best-known battles in American corporate history.

Perelman, however, has been a longtime member of the Columbia Business School community and has served on its Board of Overseers since 1994. One of the world’s wealthiest businessmen, he currently serves as chairman and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc. in New York.

Artist's drawing of the new Columbia Business School

Artist’s drawing of the new Columbia Business School

“We are grateful for Ronald O. Perelman’s generosity to the University,” said Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger in a statement.  “His major gift will not only benefit future generations of Columbia Business School students, but a wider University community in which a dynamic business education must play a vital role in the broader academic mission.  Our world has been changed by the global marketplace, so business schools and universities must respond with new thinking and new structures for learning about our economy and society.  The Perelman Center will be part of an interdisciplinary and environmentally sustainable urban campus that will help define Columbia’s next century.”

“The business landscape is changing rapidly and dramatically, and as such the principles that define strong business leadership — such as an entrepreneurial mindset and solving complex challenges — are more important now than ever before,” said Perelman in a statement.  “It is our responsibility to ensure that we are building a generation of great business leaders who drive success in an ever-changing, competitive global economy, and I believe Columbia Business School has its finger on the pulse of the changing nature of business education. I am extraordinarily pleased to pledge this gift to help them prepare the next generation of business leaders for 21st century challenges.”

Perelman is an active philanthropist who believes powerful results can be achieved when financial resources are leveraged with human resolve.  Perelman has established the Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Research Program, the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center, the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and the Ronald O. Perelman and Claudia Cohen Center for Reproductive Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center.  He serves on the boards of the New York University Langone Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Center, Ford’s Theater, Apollo Theater Foundation, and Carnegie Hall.

Perelman hasn’t forgotten his alma mate, either. Only two months ago, he gave the University of Pennsylvania a $25 million gift to create a Center for Political Science and Economics under his name. He had also given $20 million to create Perelman Quadrangle, making it possible for the University to restore the buildings at the historic core of its campus. Perelman has supported undergraduate financial aid, The Wharton School, athletics and medicine.

“Throughout the past four decades Ronald has proven himself to be one of the most accomplished investors and philanthropists of his time. He displays the type of instinct and insight that are hallmarks of a true leader — the very same traits that we seek to instill in our students here at Columbia Business School,” added Hubbard in a statement.  “The Perelman Center will allow Columbia Business School to continue pioneering breakthroughs in management education, such as moving beyond functional expertise or siloed learning and ensuring a more integrated curriculum for our students.  It will help us create the classrooms of tomorrow and foster an even greater collaborative spirit among recruiters, students, alumni, and faculty members, paving the way for a stronger network and more meaningful outcomes for our community.”

Hubbard continued: “We have always had the talent, ideas, curriculum, research, and community of a stellar business school.  Soon, thanks to Ronald’s generosity and that of our other donors, we will have the facilities to match.  On behalf of the students, faculty, staff, and graduates of Columbia Business School, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to Ronald for his generous gift.”

The two new Business School buildings on the Manhattanville campus will be designed by renowned New York architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro and will reflect the fast-paced, high-tech, and highly social character of business in the 21st century.  The facilities will encompass more than 450,000 square feet and will offer multifunctional spaces that foster a sense of community — spaces where students, faculty members, alumni, and practitioners can gather to exchange ideas. Construction of the business school buildings is not expected to begin until two more years.


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