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Feb 17, 2015 2015-02 Excellence Giving Stories

Investing in educational excellence at Gies Business

“I want to repay the generosity Illinois offered me.”

Alumnus and wife support Gies Business marketing

CW Park


C. W. Park (BADM ’71, ’74) says it’s scary to think what would have happened if he had never attended the University of Illinois. Gies College of Business offered the native of Korea a chance to reinvent himself, and it prepared him for a successful career in higher education.

“They gave an opportunity to someone who was willing to work hard,” said Park, who is now a marketing professor at the University of Southern California. “Illinois gave me a chance to prove myself. That was such a blessing to me, and it is the most unforgettable memory I have of Illinois.”

Now, Park and his wife Sunhee are proud to give back any way they can. The Park family has made a generous unrestricted gift to the marketing area of the Department of Business Administration at Gies College of Business.

“I see great potential in Gies Business marketing to continue to advance itself as one of the best in the nation,” he said.


Illinois gave me a chance


To this day, Park still isn’t sure why the University of Illinois gave him a chance.

The year was 1969. Park held a bachelor’s degree in German language and literature from Seoul National University, and he was just coming off nearly three years of mandatory service in the Korean military. He felt like he needed a career change.

“I still don’t understand why the University of Illinois offered to give tuition and scholarship money to someone without a business degree from thousands of miles away in the Far East,” he laughed. “That still is a mystery to me.”

Park wanted to change his main focus from German literature to what he called a “more practical area” of business. He only had one connection to the United States. His aunt worked at the University of Illinois, and his cousins attended school there.

So he applied, was admitted, and it turned out to be a life-changing choice.


Passion for teaching “Beautiful timing”


Park can describe his academic experience at Illinois in two words: “beautiful timing.”

He spent five years studying business at the U of I from 1969 to 1974, earning both a master’s degree and PhD in marketing.

“The marketing department at the time was the premier department in the world,” Park said. “The U of I was the best place to go as far as consumer behavior is concerned. We had such powerful scholars with incredible reputations. I received marvelous training, and that allowed me to perform as well as I have in my career.”

It was at Illinois that Park discovered his love for thinking, reading, and writing. His professors inspired him to pursue a career in higher education. After graduating from Illinois, he taught at the University of Kansas for three years and at UCLA for one year. He became the Albert Wesley Frey Distinguished Professor of Marketing at the University of Pittsburgh, where he spent 19 years. In 1997, Park accepted a position at the University of Southern California, where he served as the Joseph A. DeBell Professor of Marketing and is now the Robert E. Brooker Professor of Marketing.

“Had I not joined Illinois at that time, I’m not sure if I would’ve made it in life the way I have.”

Over the last 45 years, Park has taught thousands of students and mentored 25 PhDs, some of whom are now world-renowned marketing professors themselves. He also performed an extensive amount of consulting, including companies like Samsung. He frequently traveled overseas, and he is well aware of the brand power the University of Illinois possesses.

“If you go overseas, you will appreciate the great reputation and respect the University of Illinois has,” said Park. “There are so many alumni at the global level. It’s such a powerful brand that instills so much pride.”

Park still feels that pride in the marketing area at Gies College of Business. He’s been keeping an eye on Illinois from thousands of miles away, noting its focus on cross-cultural impacts on consumer behavior.

“I think Illinois’ focus on culture and cross-cultural research has been extremely successful in recruiting high-caliber research faculty and students.”


“The feeling of gratitude never escapes me.”


Park says he and his wife have been thinking about giving back since the day he left Illinois in 1974.

“In your life, there’s always one institution you will never forget,” he said. “For me that’s Illinois.”

He and his wife talk often about how blessed he has been by Illinois, and he was proud to give back any way he could. His gift will ensure Gies College of Business continues to achieve academic excellence for years to come.

“Giving back – no matter how little it is – is the least you can do as a human being,” said Park. “The amount of a donation may not mean a lot, but it’s a way of conveying how appreciative I am of what Illinois has done for me.”

Park hopes his gift inspires other alumni to do the same. He also wants it to inspire students, who will know they have the support of alumni who have come before them. He has one message for others who may also be considering giving back to Gies College of Business: Just do it any way you can.

“The amount of time, money, and effort doesn’t matter,” he said. “What matters most is to act. Do something, no matter how small it may be, to give back to the university.”