Hilary Jellison Simonds has deeply affectionate memories of her father, Brian, who passed away 15 months ago at the age of 73. Now she and her family are honoring the man with a $16 million gift to Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
The pledge, one of the largest ever received by the school, is a tribute to the legacy of a man who could have walked off the pages of a Horatio Alger novel. His American Dream started in the hardware store of a rural town in Indiana where he swept the floors and stocked the shelves of his father’s business. He would ultimately lose his mother at the age of 8 and his father by the time he turned 18. And though his high school counselor recommended that he forgo a formal education, Jellison enrolled at Indiana University and worked part-time jobs to pay his way toward a bachelor’s degree in business economics and public policy.
He wisely leveraged that education to rise through the corporate ranks at General Electric and Ingersoll-Rand to become chief executive of a little-known conglomerate, Roper Technologies, in 2001. Over a 17-year stint as CEO, Jellison transformed the company’s business model, moving the industrial firm into software as well as medical and scientific imaging, and grew its market capitalization from $1.5 billion to more than $30 billion, a feat that put him on the Harvard Business Review’s list of the best performing CEOs in the world, alongside the likes of Walt Disney’s Robert Iger, Starbuck’s Howard Schultz, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. From 2003 to 2017, Roper’s compound annual shareholder return was 19%, more than double the 9% returns for the S&P 500.
‘REMEMBERED AS A SMART, FUNNY & PASSIONATE CHARACTER WHO CARRIED A CALCULATOR WITH HIM’
“He was a character,” recalls Simonds, director of the family foundation. “He was very, very smart. He was passionate. He was always teaching. Anyone who worked for him always described him as an amazing mentor. He could always pick apart a problem and get straight down to the core issue. But he was also exceptionally private. He was named a top-performing CEO by the Harvard Business Review twice but nobody ever really knew that and he was perfectly fine with it.”
The calculator-toting executive, known to whip out an HP model to quickly solve a complicated financial equation, stuck to the fundamentals. Simonds recalls finding seven calculators in her parents’ home after her father died in November of 2018. “My father worked a lot of long hours but would always make time for you,” she says. “If you needed his full attention you could always get it. We had a lot of fun. He was a dad with three daughters. We played Wiffle ball in the backyard and watched Foghorn cartoons on television. He challenged us as well. He had high expectations and for all of us growing up and pushed us in a positive way.”
The genesis of the gift traces back to after her father’s diagnosis of cancer, ten months before his death. “We discussed as a family that we could really make a deep impact at one place instead of sprinkling the money around,” says Simonds. “We wanted to have a big bold impact at a place that is really special to us.”
Her father’s education at Indiana University was not only the springboard to his professional life. After meeting on a blind date during a holiday break from school, the couple spent the first two years of their married life in Bloomington, with Jellison as a student and his wife as an employee in IU’s economics department. Two of their three daughters also earned degrees at Kelley. Michelle Jellison was awarded a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1990, and Simonds received an MBA in marketing in 2001. The youngest daughter, Christie, was accepted at IU but chose to study elsewhere because the family had relocated to New Jersey where Jellison worked for Ingersoll-Rand. Simonds also met the man who would become her husband, Adam Simonds, at Kelley where he was getting an MBA at the same time.
‘WE KNEW WE WANTED TO GIVE BACK TO THE BUSINESS SCHOOL’
Current Dean Idie Kesner taught her strategy class, while former Dean Dan Smith was her marketing professor. Two of Simonds classmates, Associate Director for Professional Development Eric Johnson and former Director of Marketing Darren Klein who is now the university’s brand and strategy officer, returned to play major roles as well. “Returning to the campus was like a homecoming, a big reunion,” says Simonds. “We knew we wanted to give back to the business school. My father always taught us that with an education, you have all the tools and power to create whatever dreams you would like.”
The gift brings Kelley close to its $200 million goal which the school hopes to meet by June 30th of this year as part of a university-wide campaign to raise $3 billion.
“We think it’s going to make a real difference for the school, and we feel very honored to receive it,” says Dean Idie Kesner. “When Brian was nearing the end, he had indicated that he wanted to make a substantial gift. The family came out to visit and asked me a pivotal question. They asked me to name the dreams and aspirations that I was working on.”