Larry Gies admits he wasn’t always comfortable with the idea of putting his name on the College of Business at the University of Illinois.
“I always believe in team first,” said Gies. “A leader always puts the team ahead of themselves. To have my name on there – at first was very uncomfortable because I didn’t think it was about me. It was about the students.”
One year after Gies College of Business was officially named, those students have embraced it. They walk through the Business Instructional Facility and Wohlers Hall wearing their Gies t-shirts with pride. Dean Jeffrey R. Brown describes it as a morale change that happened almost overnight.
“The naming has generated so much enthusiasm and excitement among the current students, and that has been a gift in and of itself,” said Brown.
Illinois was my “launching pad.”
That gift was a $150 million investment into business education at Illinois. Alumnus Larry Gies and his wife Beth hoped to create both an immediate and lasting impact for current and future students, and that’s exactly what’s happening for everyone involved at Gies Business.
Larry Gies is the founder, president, and CEO of Madison Industries, a privately-held international manufacturing firm. Madison is based in Chicago, Illinois, and it builds entrepreneurially driven, branded market leaders that are dedicated to making the world safer, healthier and more productive through innovations in filtration, medical, process improvement, energy, and safety.
“The University of Illinois was my launching pad,” said Gies. “That’s where I not only learned, but experienced. I have two missions in life. One is to make the world safer, heathier and more productive. The other is to democratize education. Many things that happened to me on campus were very influential to both of those missions.”
Gies’ gift ensures that the most highly-qualified students can attend Gies College of Business regardless of their financial background. This fall, scholarship support for freshman business students increased by 40%. Dean Jeffrey Brown pledges to “build upon that” for future classes.
Money from the Gies gift is also targeted to the college’s forward-thinking programs and for faculty positions and research. It’s all in an effort to grow and strengthen Gies College of Business’ key initiatives: deliver undergraduate excellence, create exceptional graduate programs, expand the boundaries of theoretical and applied business knowledge, and use technology to democratize education.
“What I love about Larry and Beth’s generosity is that it’s allowing us to continue to make those opportunities available to our students regardless of their financial need,” said Brown. “We’re here to serve the business leaders of tomorrow regardless of their family background and where they come from, and that’s a pretty powerful mission.”
All that can’t be done without world-class professors. When Brown became dean in 2015, he had a goal to increase the faculty by 30 within ten years. So far, the College has added ten – evidence of the dean’s commitment to increasing the scholarly and research impact at Gies College of Business.
A similar mission
“I spent a lot of time with Dean Brown,” said Gies. “And I realized we had a similar mission: to create this school that would be the greatest business school on earth – that would be a spot for purposeful leaders to find their passion and make the world a better place, I was convinced that this was the right thing to do.
“We’re one of the best places in the world to come learn accounting and finance and so forth, but we also want our students to learn who they are and why they’re here,” Brown added. “We talk a lot about discovering your ‘why’, and this gift absolutely makes that possible in so many ways.”
The University of Illinois helped Gies find his ‘why.’ He admits the cost of a college education is quite a bit more than it was 34 years ago when he drove his car from Mendota, Ill. to Champaign for the first time. His mission, though, is to ensure that cost is no longer a barrier to the best and brightest students.
“The key thing for me was really giving back to a university that gave me so much,” he said. “I want to make sure other people have that opportunity.”