The $150 million gift from Larry and Beth Gies to the University of Illinois College of Business had its roots in a dinner conversation.
Gies was having his regular dinner with finance Professor Rob Metzger before teaching his UI entrepreneurship class, and told him, "We're falling behind here at Illinois. My kids are going through the college process and all I hear about is other business schools."
"We still had great placement rates, top students, we had all the numbers. The problem was twofold: We were getting out-marketed, and we were getting out-scholarshipped," said Gies, who confessed he's "0-for-2" so far with his own children choosing Illinois.
A talented intern at Madison Industries had told Gies that Illinois had been his first choice but he couldn't afford it.
"That's when it hit me that we should never have somebody who wants to be an Illini not be able to be an Illini for financial need," Gies said.
Metzger introduced Gies to business Dean Jeff Brown, who had already settled on $150 million as the amount he'd need to enact his vision for the college and the "attention-grabbing number that would help us raise our aspirations."
Brown presented it to Gies: "He didn't blink," Brown said.
Gies asked strategic questions about the college's mission and plans, then met with Brown the following week in Chicago and gave his verbal commitment.
Gies was impressed by Brown's plans to "democratize" education by doubling the college's scholarships, among other goals.
Gies wasn't excited about his name going on the college — partly because it's often mispronounced — and even came up with a list of other possible candidates. Brown persuaded him the name would help build the college's brand, and a friend told Gies, "Within three minutes of the naming, it will no longer be your name. The faculty and alumni and students will define it."
The naming, the flexibility of the unrestricted gift, Gies' involvement with students and his strategic help for the college made it "many gifts in one," Brown said. "I couldn't have asked for a better partner."