At a time when several Big Ten business schools are struggling with the future of their full-time MBA programs, the College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign won a big vote of confidence today (Oct. 26) with a colossal $150 million naming gift. The pledge is being made by Larry Gies, a successful Chicago entrepreneur who earned his MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 1992 and his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in 1988.
The gift–made with his wife, Beth–comes at a time when the University of Iowa earlier this year announced that it would shut down its full-time MBA program and Wisconsin’s School of Business only yesterday reversed a decision to suspend its full-time offering during a review of its portfolio of degree programs. Illinois, which has a very small full-time MBA with enrollment of under 150 students, won’t have to worry about resources for a money-losing program given the magnitude of this gift.
Only three other benefactors have given more to a business school in history: David Booth’s $300 million naming gift to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in 2008, Stephen Ross’ combined giving of $250 million to the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Jay Shidler’s $228 million to the University of Hawaii’s Shidler College of Business (see table below). Gies $150 million gift puts Urbana Champaign in a three-way tie between Stanford’s Graduate School which received $150 million in 2011 and Cornell’s SC Johnson Graduate School which received the same amount earlier this year.
MAKING HISTORY IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE
The generous pledge marks the largest donation ever in the College of Business’s more than 100-year history as well as the history of schools within the University of Illinois system. “We are incredibly grateful and proud to have two successful U of I graduates reinvest in the very place where their entrepreneurial journey began,” said Dean Jeffrey R. Brown. Noting that the gift is among the largest to a business school ever, Dean Brown said that Gies generosity “is the result of strong confidence in the excellence of our students, the innovative spirit of our faculty and staff, and the vision and determination to make the Gies College of Business the best undergraduate business college in the country.”
It’s also a vote of confidence for Dean Jeffrey Brown, who assumed the deanship in August of 2015 after spending more than 13 years in the University of Illinois system as a professor of finance. Brown will use the money to support the school’s strategic priorities, including its undergraduate and graduate programs, the production of theoretical and applied business knowledge, and its use of technology to democratize higher education.
“Unlike others that focus primarily on the MBA, the undergrad program is our crown jewel here. We’ll use the gift to continue creating an unparalleled undergraduate experience.”
At the graduate level, Brown references the school’s innovative online iMBA program that launched in 2016. It launched in a series of MOOCs with Coursera, is priced at under $22,000 (see Is Illinois’ iMBA The Future Of B-School?).
“The iMBA changed the game in terms of how we provide business education. We’re very excited about the future of all of our programs that are both face-to-face as well as online.”
The gift would presumably allow Dean Brown to more aggressively market that disruptive program, among other things. There also will be more money for student scholarships and more money to hire additional faculty as the school seeks to build its brand and become recognized as a leading U.S. business school.
WHERE THE MONEY COMES FROM
Gies is president and CEO of Madison Industries, a successful privately held investment firm in Chicago that he founded nearly 25 years ago. Under his leadership, the firm has acquired 70 companies and has helped to expand the geographic reach of those firms. He’s also president of The Gies Foundation, which focuses on youth, education, and health, and a frequent speaker at several universities, including, of course, the College of Business at the University of Illinois.
“The College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a very special place to me,” says Gies in a statement. “It is on this campus that I developed a foundation for success. We are honored to give back to the college that gave so much to us and I hope our choice to make a decisive investment encourages others to do the same,” said Larry Gies. “This investment is, and always will be about the students here and what we can become together – the greatest business school on earth, where purposeful leaders get the tools to pursue their passion to make the world a better place. I’m truly excited for our students and the future of our College.”
According to one report, Gies did not seek for the College of Business to bear his name. “Instead, we asked them and they humbly obliged,” Dean Brown says, pointing out that it was appropriate given the sheer size of the gift as well as Gies’s consistent devotion to the school, where he returns nearly every semester to teach classes.
“This speaks to the humble nature of Larry and Beth Gies.”
KEEPING IT STUDENT-FOCUSED
Gies says his and his wife’s pledge to their alma mater is about the students. “This investment is, and always will be, about the students here and what we can become together – the greatest business school on earth, where purposeful leaders get the tools to pursue their passion to make the world a better place.”