An Emotional Moment: A $100 Million Gift Over $5 Salads

UCLA Anderson Dean Judy Olian (left) with benefactor Marion Anderson

UCLA Anderson Dean Judy Olian (left) with benefactor Marion Anderson

It was over a couple of $5 salads in Dean Judy Olian’s office when Marion Anderson told the Dean of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management that she was ready to give the school a $100 million gift.

The impromptu meal occurred on April 29th, just after Anderson came to campus to hear U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker speak in the school’s distinguished speakers series.

“‘Come on, have a salad with me,’” Olian recalls saying to her after the event. The pair strolled to the dean’s office and in between bites of their salads the gift came up. They had talked about a possible pledge for a few weeks so it wasn’t a complete surprise. Still, agreeing to give an institution its largest gift ever is a big decision.


“It was an emotional moment,” says Olian. “It was joyous, profound, stunning, and it was also extremely emotional for her.”

A few days after the tête-à-tête in Olian’s office, Anderson would make her generous donation formal during a Sunday lunch with UCLA Chancellor Gene Block on May 3rd.

For Anderson, it was a way to honor her late husband, John, for whom the business school is named. It also was a way to insure that the institution she had become increasingly involved with since her husband’s death four years earlier would be on a solid financial footing for many years to come.


For Olian, who counts Marion Anderson as a close, personal friend, it was her biggest accomplishment of a near ten-year run as dean. Only five other gifts to business schools have been larger, and if you tally up the Andersons’ initial $15 million naming gift in 1987 and a subsequent $25 million pledge in 2011, the total pledge from the Andersons comes to $142 million. Only three other business school benefactors have given more: David Booth to Chicago, Stephen Ross to Michigan, and Robert and Dorothy King to Stanford.

Anderson’s gift, moreover, was a very loud, affirming vote of confidence in Olian who had fought through bureaucratic battles and faculty politics to gain self-supporting status for the school’s full-time MBA program two years ago. In making the gift, Anderson directly linked her decision to the school’s new financial model, which essentially made the business school a quasi-private institution, with the exception of two undergraduate minors and a sliver of its PhD program for which it still receives state support.

Asked what she intends to do with $100 million, which will be gifted over several years, Olian said the school will construct a new multi-purpose building, with classrooms and offices, next to its current location at a cost of $50 million to $80 million. Some $40 million of Anderson’s $100 million will go toward the new tower which will increase the size of the business school’s campus to seven buildings. The remaining cost of the new structure will be funded by others or financed.


Olian said the school has done an “initial concept study” for the new facility. “There are a couple of sites right around our complex that will accommodate it,” she adds. “It will be classrooms and offices around the student lifecycle, from admissions, career development, to alumni relations. We will do a holistic evaluation of our current space and the re-purposing that needs to occur. The building will be a net add to our complex.”

The bulk of the $100 million gift will go to Anderson’s endowment which totaled $204.6 million at the end of last year. “That is significantly above where we were but still paltry compared to some of the schools we compete with,” said Olian. “We are going to ramp up our faculty hiring, support, recognition and retention efforts in a way that is more aggressive than was done, and  we will be able to invest in fellowships and student support in more ways than we do.”

The $100 million gift also kicks off the public phase of a university-wide campaign to raise $4.2 billion by 2019, the university’s 100th anniversary. UCLA Anderson has received gifts or pledges of more than $183 million toward its revised goal of $300 million. Olian says she hopes to increase the endowment to $350 million within the five-year campaign.


Anderson is among the most highly selective business schools in the world, accepting less than 18% of the applicants to its full-time MBA program. Only four U.S. schools are more selective: Stanford, Harvard, UC-Berkeley, and MIT Sloan. And last year, MBA applications surged by more than 32%. The gift will help to keep Anderson in the upper echelon of business schools and possibly move it up in status and prestige.

The gift itself is the culmination of a long and enduring relationship that the self-made entrepreneur John Anderson had with the business school. The son of a barber in Minneapolis, where he sold popcorn in front of his father’s shop as a boy, Anderson originally came to UCLA on a hockey scholarship in 1936 “with a buck in his pocket,” says Olian. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at UCLA in 1940.

“It was transformative for him,” adds Olian. “He was an incredibly industrious person and he was already a little bit on his way when he went to Harvard Business School (where he collected his MBA degree in 1942). But he was nowhere when he came here. He really felt that this was where he started. Over the years, he would always come back to what was then the Graduate School of Management and would teach. So he knew legions of students through the years, and they remembered him because he was so impactful.”

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