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Topics: Philanthropy

Ross makes history with $200 million gift to U-M

By Laura Lessnau
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“Give til you feel good”

He may be the largest single donor in U-M history. He may be one of the largest donors to a business school in the United States. And he may be one of the most successful real estate developers in the world.

But at his core, Stephen M. Ross, BBA ’62, is a diehard Wolverine who would do anything to outperform the Ohio State University.

“As a kid, it was always, ‘Why don’t you be like your uncle?’” says Ross, referring to the late philanthropist Max Fisher, for whom Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business is named.

As an adult Ross has done just that—and more.

The Ross School of Business and U-M Athletics will each receive $100 million.

On Sept. 4 he pledged $200 million to the University of Michigan. The unprecedented gift is the largest single donation in U-M history. It comes less than a decade after his 2004 gift of $100 million to Michigan’s business school, since renamed the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. This, combined with previous philanthropy to U-M, makes Ross the biggest donor to his alma mater with lifetime giving of more than $313 million.

“My uncle [Max Fisher] was a mentor to me, and you always want to outdo your mentor, right?” Ross says. “So when I had an opportunity to make a major gift—knowing the Michigan business school compared to Ohio State’s—what better way to do it? It was a way to show my parents and grandparents that maybe I succeeded.”

Ross with marching band.

On the morning his $200 million gift was announced, Stephen M. Ross, BBA ’62, was hailed by the Michigan Marching Band with a rousing rendition of “The Victors.” (Image: Michigan Photography)

“It’s the greatest place there is”

Ross is chairman and founder of the Related Companies, one of the most prominent real estate developers in the world. It is best known for the development of Time Warner Center in New York and the 26-acre Hudson Yards development currently underway on Manhattan’s west side. Ross also is principal owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

“I never dreamed I’d be in a position like this,” Ross says of his groundbreaking $200 million gift. In keeping with his professional and philanthropic vision, the Ross School and U-M Athletics will each receive $100 million.

“What really characterizes Michigan and its uniqueness is how it combines academics and athletics,” Ross says. “When you fuse those together, you end up with a school spirit that probably exists at no other institution in this country. You want to be the best in class, no matter what you do. That’s what you learn at Michigan.”

Ross with reporters.

Ross made headlines with his historic gift to U-M.(Image: Michigan Photography)

Projects will be designed to create contemporary spaces for the nearly 6,000 students who take courses at the Ross School and the 900-plus student athletes in all sports. In addition, scholarships will be available for Ross students. Specific projects will be announced in the coming months.

“Stephen Ross’ vision has always been about the ability of facilities to transform the human experience,” says U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. “He understands the power of well-conceived spaces, and his generosity will benefit generations of Michigan students, faculty, and coaches.”

Adds Ross: “I am thrilled to be able to make such an impactful contribution and to not only help write the next chapter for the University, but also offer much-needed scholarships to ensure we continue to attract the best and the brightest students and provide them with the financial resources they need.”

But Ross isn’t stopping there. He has agreed to serve as the chair of the University’s Victors for Michigan Campaign that will kick off Nov. 8.

“I’ve never been happier than the day I made my first $100 million commitment [in 2004],” Ross says. “I said this then, and I believe it: You give til you feel good. I don’t believe there’s anything more rewarding than giving back and helping others. By giving, you inspire others to give.”

Down to business

In 2009 doors opened on the 100,000-square-foot Ross School of Business building. These new funds will help complete the business school campus, incorporating innovative design, advanced technology, and expanded facilities, says Alison Davis-Blake, the school’s Edward J. Frey Dean.

“It will empower students and faculty who share our mission to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world,” Davis-Blake says.

The Ross School of Business proposes to create:

  • New spaces for students to study, collaborate, and connect with each other, faculty, and potential employers.
  • A state-of-the-art career services space, including an enhanced recruiting center to connect students with the best companies and careers.
  • New spaces to support an “admission-to-alumni” approach to student and career services with dynamic events and opportunities on campus and beyond.
  • A space to bring together faculty, students, and corporate partners to create practice-oriented research on topics of key importance to local and global firms.
  • Classrooms infused with advanced technology and innovative design to support in-person and virtual collaboration and connectivity on a global scale.
  • Scholarships for Ross students.

Taking the field

In previous donations to U-M Athletics, Ross gave a $5 million lead gift to create the Stephen M. Ross Academic Center, which provides study space on the athletic campus. Additional past gifts include $5 million for the stadium expansion project and $50,000 to the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts for the Henry Pearce Endowed Scholarship, and scholarship support for student-athletes.

Ross with banner.

Ross’ gift supports his three passions: education, business, and athletics. (Image: Michigan Photography)

“Stephen Ross shares our vision for an athletic campus that provides every student-athlete access to world-class facilities to successfully train and compete at the highest level athletically and academically,” says Dave Brandon, the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics.

View a photo gallery of images taken at the athletic campus.
“Steve made his first gift to athletics to help build our Ross Academic Center and is now making a commitment to Michigan Athletics that will impact over 900 student-athletes across all 31 of our teams. We are excited and grateful for Steve’s generous support, and we look forward to appropriately recognizing Steve and celebrating this historic gift.”

Michigan Athletics proposes to improve its campus to:

  • Provide student-athletes on all 31 teams with the necessary resources to be academically and athletically successful.
  • Develop state-of-the-art facilities that create a sense of community, identity, and tradition for all U-M teams.
  • Create additional spaces that help student-athletes develop skills for success after athletics.
  • Build facilities that are a destination for local, state, national, and international competitions.

The campus will be named the Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus in recognition for this transformative gift, pending approval by the U-M Board of Regents.

Best in class

Ross earned his Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting from the U-M Business School in 1962, a law degree from Wayne State University, and a master of law degree in taxation from New York University. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from U-M in 2011. Ross began his career as a tax attorney at Coopers & Lybrand in Detroit. He serves on the executive committee and is a trustee of Lincoln Center, is a trustee of New York Presbyterian Hospital and the Guggenheim Foundation, and a director of the World Resources Institute and the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Earlier this year, Ross committed to give half or more of his wealth to charity and signed the Giving Pledge, a long-term, global initiative created by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates that aims to inspire deeper engagement in philanthropy and increase charitable giving globally.

Laura Lessnau

Laura Lessnau

LAURA LESSNAU is director of Michigan News, the University's news service. Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauraLess24.