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The Michigan Difference
Alumnus gives $100M, largest U-M gift ever;
regents name Business School in his honor


Nobody had uttered a word yet when the overflow crowd in Hale Auditorium erupted into applause for the alumnus who has given the largest gift in the University's 187-year history.
Stephen Ross and Dean Robert Dolan at the Sept. 9 press conference. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

It was the first of four standing ovations and numerous other outbursts of applause for New York City real estate developer Stephen Ross, whose gift of $100 million also represents the largest donation to any U.S. business school.

In recognition of the gift, the Board of Regents met in a special session Sept. 9 to rename the school the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, just a few hours before the gift was announced during a press conference.

Dean Robert Dolan said Ross's generosity will help the school build its future and continue its reputation as a top business program in the nation.

"This gift helps us in two ways. It gives us the resources to do things we could not otherwise do, and it's a powerful expression that someone believes in us," Dolan said. "We only have great things ahead."

Ross—a Detroit native who in 1962 earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from the Business School—is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of The Related Companies L.P., developer of the $1.7 billion, 2.8 million-square-foot Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle in New York City. The company's portfolio, valued in excess of $8 billion, makes it one of the most prominent real estate developers in the country.
Your autograph please… Bachelor of Business Administration major Christine Hayes asks Stephen Ross for a signature after the announcement of his history-making gift. “When they told me it was $100 million, I was amazed. It made me want to work harder,” Hayes said. President Mary Sue Coleman said Ross’ gift will “help students who are not even born yet.” (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

The Related Companies also is the primary shareholder in CharterMac, the country's largest financier of affordable housing in the United States, with approximately 250,000 units in 44 states.

"The University of Michigan made a difference in my life. The days I spent here laid the foundation for my career," Ross said. "It's important not to forget where one comes from and how you got there."

Ross's wife and children, and his uncle Max Fisher, the Detroit philanthropist and businessman whose name graces The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, joined him at the press conference. Ross credited his uncle with teaching him the importance of philanthropy.

"He was an important role model and inspiration who taught me about the obligation one has to make the world a better place," Ross said.

When Fisher had an opportunity to say a few words, he joked that since he had encouraged Ross to give back something to the institutions that had served him, he [Fisher] was indirectly responsible for the gift to U-M. Fisher went on to recount how Ross had borrowed money from him to attend college, and later presented a check to pay his uncle back.

"I told him, 'I don't want your money. I want you to do something with it,' " Fisher recalled telling his nephew. "[And] for all the years I've known you, you're always seeking ways to share it."

President Mary Sue Coleman hailed the gift to the business school and its impact on The Michigan Difference, the University's $2.5 billion fund-raising campaign, of which Ross is a co-chair.

"His gift will inspire and transform our business school, and in fact, propel our entire University forward," Coleman said of the gift she called "breathtaking." "He has really set the bar," Coleman said with a tone that sounded a bit like a challenge, and that brought laughter from the audience. Others agreed.

"It's incredible leadership that Steve Ross has shown as one of the co-chairs of the campaign. We've had many of our volunteers for the campaign step up and really lead from the front," Regent Katherine White said, adding that she is optimistic his example will encourage other major gifts.

Richard Rogel, alumnus and co-chair of the campaign, said Ross's "absolutely marvelous gift helps us on our way in the campaign, not just because it's 1/25th of the total goal—which is an obvious and extremely important benefit—but more than that, it shows the desire of our alumni and friends to ensure that Michigan remains one of the world's greatest universities."

In addition to work on the campaign, Ross has served as an active volunteer for more than 20 years, as a member of the President's Advisory Group and of the Director's Cabinet in the Department of Collegiate Athletics.

The business school gift is not the first Ross has given to the University. Previous philanthropy includes a $5 million lead gift toward funding of a new athletic academic center, $1 million to establish an endowed professorship in real estate at the Business School and $50,000 to create the Henry Pearce Endowed Fellowship in LSA. He also inspired the annual Real Estate Forum in the Business School.

Dolan said the gift announced last week will be used for program needs and facilities. The school has been planning for its future for the last 18 months but specific details have yet to be worked out, he said.

What is known at this time is that the gift will make it possible for the school to build or renovate state-of-the-art facilities that are critical to its ability to recruit faculty and students in a highly competitive educational environment, Dolan said.

Additionally, it will allow development of formal and informal group study spaces that foster team-based activity and encourage interaction between faculty and students. Dolan said it also will expand the endowment fund, allowing more awards for innovative, interdisciplinary programs that will set the program apart from others in the nation.

School administrators hope to bring a specific project proposal to the Board of Regents for approval later this year, he said.

Ross earned a law degree from Wayne State University in 1965 and a master of law degree in taxation from New York University in 1966. He began his career as a tax attorney at Coopers & Lybrand in Detroit. He went on to become assistant vice president in the real estate subsidiary of Laird Inc. in New York City and the corporate finance department of Bear, Stearns & Co.

His many civic activities include serving on the executive committee of NYC2012, the initiative to bring the summer Olympic Games to New York City eight years from now. As trustee of the Guggenheim Museum, Ross is involved in the planning for a major renovation of the iconic structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

He is a member of the executive committee and board of directors of the Real Estate Board of New York, a trustee of the National Building Museum and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and long-time supporter of the United Jewish Appeal (UJA)-Federation of New York. Ross and his partners in Time Warner Center contributed $60 million to build the core and shell of the new 100,000-square-foot home for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Among the awards Ross has received are the Jack D. Weiler Award from the UJA-Federation of New York in 2003 and the New York Building Congress 80th Anniversary Leadership Award in 2001. He was named the 2001 honoree for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's annual Promise Ball and earlier that year received the Henry Pearce Award from the Jewish Association of Services for the Aged.

In 2000 Ross was named Owner & Developer of the Year by New York Construction News. In 1999 he was honored by the Lincoln Center Real Estate and Construction Council and received the "What New York Needs" award presented by The Doe Fund Inc. Ross received the Tree of Life Award in 1998 in recognition of outstanding community involvement and devotion to peace and the security of human life.

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