Charles M. Harper, former chief executive of ConAgra Foods, has made a substantial monetary donation to the Graduate School of Business (GSB), the University announced late last Friday. The amount, while still undisclosed, is acknowledged as one of the largest cash gifts in the GSB’s history.
The Hyde Park GSB building on East 58th Street and South Woodlawn Avenue has been renamed the Charles M. Harper Center in honor of the donation.
The amount likely matches or exceeds previous large gifts to the school, including DeVry Inc. chairman Dennis Keller’s gift of $25 million and Florida Bank Group executive Robert Rothman’s gift of $20 million. Harper said he did not want to disclose the donation amount in hope of inspiring others to give to the GSB.
“Significant gifts like the Harper gift send a clear message to the broader world, that the GSB and the University of Chicago are worthy of a high level of support,” said David Greene, vice president for Strategic Initiatives. “This type of thing generates a lot of support—there’s an effect on the reputation of the University at large.”
The funds will function as a form of endowment, used over the long-term to aid people and programs, said Ted Snyder, dean of the GSB. Specifically, the money will assist the M.B.A. scholarship budget and efforts to increase the number of full-time faculty members, among other initiatives.
The gift will also assist the GSB in reaching its current capital goal of $300 million, part of the Chicago Initiative, a University-wide campaign aimed at raising $2 billion.
“The very largest of major gifts like this one add momentum,” Snyder said. “We also, of course, get to tell the story of Mike Harper, a terrific person and an obviously highly successful CEO.”
Harper earned his M.B.A. from the GSB in 1950. He cited his education there as important to his later professional success. “[The] Chicago GSB had an impact on the good fortune I had in business,” Harper said in a University press release.
Under Harper’s leadership, ConAgra became the second-largest U.S. food company, increasing sales to upward of $200 billion. He is lauded for his early embrace of information technology and his incorporation of technology into the business world.
Harper, who suffered and recovered from a heart attack in the 1980s, was also the mind behind Healthy Choice, a line of nutritious frozen foods, which he cited as generating
$1 billion in three years.
Harper’s gift was the second significant donation secured by the University in the past week. Last Thursday, administrators announced the donation of $35 million toward construction of a south-campus arts center.