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Oct 12, 2022 2022-10 Accountancy Alumni Business Administration Faculty Finance Giving Stories Student

The Gies Gift: Catalyst of a Bold Transformation

The boldest transformation of a business school in the US, if not the world, started over a couple salads at a Champaign restaurant. When Dean Jeff Brown and alumnus Larry Gies first met five years ago, the two quickly found they shared audacious dreams about the future of the College.

“I explained the impact a significant gift could bring in areas like expanding access, growing our faculty, and investing in innovation – and Larry was all in,” Brown recalled.

GiesCollBus1817A few months after that meeting, Gies, a 1988 graduate with the bachelor’s in accounting, and his wife Beth (ACES ’89), generously agreed to make a $150 million investment in the then-College of Business. The gift came with only one condition. They wanted to keep the focus of the gift on the students and the school itself. Larry and Beth never wanted to be the focal point.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is Larry agreed to the gift before he agreed to the naming of the College,” Brown said. “To be honest, we had to work to convince him that this was in the best interest of the College. We were in the process of building a brand, and we knew the naming would provide an identity that would be distinct. So, Larry and Beth generously agreed to let us use their name.”

The Gies announcement unleashed a wave of innovation. It catalyzed an unprecedented investment in creating life-changing access for learners, sparked the unmatched growth of its online graduate programs, and gave the College a newfound financial strength it has used to expand faculty and research programs. On top of that, it inspired additional gifts from alumni who were moved by the Gies’ generosity and purpose.

“The 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,” said Gies, founder, president, and CEO of Madison Industries, a Chicago-based, privately-held international manufacturing firm. “Our future leaders are here. Their entrepreneurial spirit along with the school’s rich history of innovation is like a magnet for me.”

GiesCollBus1317The Gies investment was designed to help ensure anyone who is talented and driven enough to earn admission can afford to enroll. The College immediately started providing additional need-based scholarships – a couple hundred thousand dollars extra per year – which were guaranteed for four years. All told, that was an extra $800,000 in scholarship assistance. Today, the College has more than doubled its scholarship support from five years ago.

“If a learner is receiving a scholarship today, there’s a good chance it was made possible by Larry and Beth’s generosity, or a gift inspired by it,” said Brown. “A lot of the richness they see in the classroom, enhancements to our business minor, the Disruption Lab, and our experiential learning opportunities, likely would not have been possible to this extent without the Gies gift and others that followed.”

That investment also was directly tied to building and enhancing the College’s commitment to excellence. The College hired more faculty and enhanced its already strong support for them in new and innovative ways. Over the last six years, the College’s faculty has grown from about 140 to more than 200. In addition, the College has made unprecedented investments in its research enterprise, including the Behavioral Research Lab, Illinois Strategic Organizations Initiative, and the Initiative for Qualitative Research in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (INQUIRE).

“The Gies gift made us feel more comfortable investing in areas that we otherwise might have been hesitant to invest in – for budgetary reasons,” said Brown. “It gave us the opportunity to extend our financial support quickly and decisively.”

Much of that investment came in online education, which ties together the College’s commitments to access, excellence, innovation, inclusion, and engagement. At the time of the Gies announcement in the fall of 2017, the online MBA (iMBA) was only 18 months old and the online master’s in accounting (iMSA) was just launching. The Gies gift enabled the College to invest in technology and online learning experts to achieve its goal of building an accessible, high-quality online MBA. Today, the iMBA accounts for nearly 10% of all online MBA students in the US, the iMSA is the largest accounting master’s program in the country, and the online master’s in management (iMSM) is on a similar growth trajectory.

“In the week following Larry and Beth’s gift in 2017, we raised another million dollars from alumni who were inspired by it,” said Brown. “Fundraising in every year since the gift has been higher than every year before the gift. Part of that is the direct effect of people seeing someone as successful as Larry and Beth buying into what we’re doing, but it also has had an indirect effect of the innovation it helped unleash.”

“This gift gave us the resources and the momentum to accomplish the goals that are in our Purpose Statement – to shape purposeful leaders through life-changing access to education, research, and innovation. Because of that gift, we were able to implement new innovations much quicker and make a more powerful impact. We prize innovation here, and everyone involved in the Gies community can feel confident knowing they can continue to expect a stream of innovations both large and small,” said Brown. “When I’m done being dean, the gift will be a signature accomplishment. One of the things I’m most proud of is that, in partnering with Larry and Beth, we have fundamentally changed the culture of this College and are shaping the future of business education.”