Darden Lands $44 Million Gift From A Grateful Alum

Dave LaCross and his wife, Kathy, are giving $44 million to UVA’s Darden School of Business

When Dave LaCross graduated with his MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business in 1978, he immediately felt a sense of profound gratitude toward the school for what he believed was a life-changing experience.

“I recognized well before graduation that I owed a tremendous debt to Darden for its effective use of the case method, an incredibly special faculty that really knew how to get the most out of a class and my classmates,” he recalled. “I hoped from the outset that I would be in a position to give something back some day.”

That day came last week when the finance executive, and his wife Kathy, pledged $44 million to Darden, in all probability one of the 50 largest gifts to a business school. It was not the first time LaCross contributed to is alma mater. Only two years earlier, he established the David M. LaCross Professorship at Darden to support a faculty member in the quantitative analysis or finance areas. 

A POST-MBA JOB AT BofA LED TO THE FOUNDING OF HIS OWN COMPANY

His latest contribution, however, is the third-largest gift in Darden’s 67 years of existence. He and his wife, who earned her bachelor’s degree at UVA, did some savvy estate planning to pave the way for the big gift in 1997 when he sold his company, Risk Management Technologies, to Fair Isaac Co. (FICO) in 1997.

Only three years ago, Darden received a massive $68 million gift, the largest in its history from an already generous MBA alum who graduated from the school in 1963. Frank M. Sands Sr., the now-retired founder of Sands Capital Management, made the pledge which also honors his late wife, Marjorie R. Sands, a lifelong educator. That $68 million gift, exceeding by $6 million the 1999 $62 million pledge to Darden by Frank Batten, immediately put Sands among the top 15 donors to business schools ever.

This newest pledge from LaCross will help to make Darden one of the most generously funded public business schools in the nation. The MBA he earned from Darden helped him land a job with Bank of America where over a ten-year stint he became a senior vice president before moving on to American First Financial Corp. He left First Financial in 1989 to create his enterprise-side interest rate risk management and performance measurement solutions in Berkeley, CA. LaCross, now 69, currently co-owns a microbrewery, Morgan Territory Brewing, started with his son, Michael, in Tracy, CA.

GIFT WILL FUND NEW RESIDENTIAL HOUSING FOR MBAS, AMONG OTHER THINGS

With $6 million in matching funds from the University, Darden expects the total impact of the gift is $50 million. It will help fund a variety of projects, including:

  • A $20.5 million lead gift and seed funding to catalyze the construction of residential housing for MBA students at Darden in support of the master plan developed by Dean Scott Beardsley 
  • $18 million in current funding to endow and name the dean’s chair at Darden, comprised of a $12 million gift from the LaCross family, plus $6 million in matching funds from the UVA Bicentennial Professors Fund
  • $6.5 million bequest toward a future Darden research center or initiative on artificial intelligence
  • $5 million to name the botanical gardens at Darden, now under construction

‘A BELIEF IN THE CASE METHOD STYLE OF LEARNING

“My desire to give back starts with my strong belief in the power of the case method to develop and inspire responsible leaders who will improve the world,” said LaCross in a statement. His wife focused her remarks on the construction of a new dorm for MBAs. “Our hope is that this residential housing gift will not only improve Darden’s educational experience by providing quality on-Grounds residential housing but also become a financial asset to support outstanding students’ financial need overall, and to attract talented future women leaders in particular via scholarships,” she said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the gift.

The Darden student housing project recently received an early positive endorsement from UVA’s Board of Visitors as part of the master plan vision and planned register of capital projects. More architectural drawings to ensure economic and experience optimization, development of the exact ground lease and operating model and ownership structure, approval of a viable and responsible business plan, permitting, and development of operational processes to enhance student belonging and well-being — among many other steps — are required before any construction could begin.

This LaCross gift will also name the botanical gardens — a featured set of thematic green spaces intertwined with the arboretum and boutique hotel on the Darden Grounds — that surround the potential residential housing project and provide connectivity to the Rivanna Trail. The six-acre botanical gardens will serve UVA as an educational space and feature an outdoor classroom, pond, bridges, and more than 5,000 trees and shrubs — including many cultivars found at Monticello. The botanical gardens also honor the vision of Thomas Jefferson, who was working on a different botanical garden design of about the same size at UVA near Alderman library when he died. This space will activate North Grounds and create greater connectivity between the School of Law, the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, and Darden — while being a social magnet for the University community, serving as a place where students, faculty, staff and community members interact.

On the heels of the largest gift ever in 2019, the LaCross donation is yet another coupe for Dean Beardsley who has proven himself an adept fundraiser. “On behalf of the Darden community — including the students and faculty who will benefit from this investment — I am grateful to Dave and Kathy LaCross for their leadership and generosity,” said Darden Dean Scott Beardsley. “Thanks to their gift, Darden will continue to focus on delivering the world’s best educational experience through student-centered learning, the case method, high student engagement, talented staff, a supportive community, the world’s best teaching faculty, and rigorous research that creates new, practitioner-focused knowledge.”

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