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Ex-CEO Gives $20 Million To Ross School

Ross School of Business benefactors Stephen and Karen Sanger

Ross School of Business benefactors Stephen and Karen Sanger

It’s true there are some things money can’t buy. For a business school, an edge over the competition isn’t one of them. And when the area of business education in question is highlighted over and over by employers as one of the most important, the edge gets a little sharper.

Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan on Jan. 15 announced a $20 million gift from Stephen and Karen Sanger to endow the new Sanger Leadership Center. It’s the third-largest gift in the school’s history, behind two $100 million gifts from real-estate mogul Stephen Ross, a 1962 accounting BBA from Michigan’s business school.

Stephen Sanger, a 1970 Ross MBA, is a retired chairman and CEO of General Mills, which he joined in 1974.

The $20 million donation will turn the existing Ross Leadership Initiative (RLI) into the Sanger Leadership Center. At a time when employers are identifying leadership as a skill they avidly seek and often do not find in MBAs, Ross has received a gift that will provide a significant educational asset and opportunity for students, and also make the school more attractive to applicants.


“It gives us a huge advantage,” says Scott DeRue, director of the RLI, who will retain his position in the new Sanger Center. “We compete with all of the usual suspects – all of the top-tier schools, they see the same need that we see. Everybody is trying to meet that need.

“We already know that the leadership development experiences that we provide are one of the reasons students come to the Ross School. We are on a trajectory to extend any competitive advantage that we have in that space.”

Currently, the RLI touches about 2,500 of Ross’ total 3,000 students per year with some sort of leadership programming, DeRue says. He expects the new Sanger Center will allow Ross to touch all 3,000 students with leadership-development experiences that “really push their character and their capability.”

On the day of the $20 million funding announcement, Sanger and his wife were scheduled to visit the school to watch the start of the final round of the RLI’s “Crisis Challenge,” a 24-hour simulation of a business crisis, intended to train students in navigating ambiguity, using good judgment, working under pressure, and adapting to turbulence.

The Sanger Center will continue to draw 15 or 20 professors at a time from within the business school, as does the RLI, DeRue says. The Sangers’ donation focuses on student experiences and supports faculty research, and is not to be used for new facilities or hiring faculty, DeRue says. “It’s targeted at leadership development experience for our students and the thought leadership of our faculty,” Derue says.