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When Raymond J. and Kathryn D. Harbert made their transformational $40 million gift to Auburn University’s College of Business in 2013, they envisioned that this investment would pay lucrative dividends for generations of students, faculty and alumni.
In the ensuing decade, the Harbert College of Business has invested their gift in people, programs and facilities that have enabled unprecedented student enrollment growth and propelled the college to new heights as one of the premier public business schools in the country.
The gift has enhanced students’ overall education and provided more experiential learning opportunities, rejuvenated the research enterprise by attracting and rewarding top-performing faculty, and enabled new collaborations with industry partners.
The magnitude of the Harberts’ gift has enhanced Auburn’s reputation among its many stakeholders.
“One of the most important things the gift accomplished was that it allowed us to fundamentally change the way we think,” said Harbert College’s Interim Dean and Regions Bank Professor Joe Hanna. “Rather than dream about what might be possible if funding constraints were not present, we began envisioning a future where some of our dreams could be vigorously pursued and realistically achieved.”
“A naming gift is a clear differentiator for business schools—ones with naming gifts are viewed throughout higher education as more prestigious than those without them,” said Harbert Eminent Scholar Dave Ketchen, a management professor recognized as one of the top researchers in the nation. “Landing a naming gift sends a signal to stakeholders and rivals alike that this school is poised to become great.”
Another aspect of the gift, Hanna said, was Harbert’s generous matching initiative, which inspired other alumni and friends to donate, resulting in an additional $15 million in new gifts that funded 120 endowments.
“That is a substantial impact through philanthropic dollars,” said Hanna.
These new gifts created additional named faculty positions and established numerous funds for excellence to address specific needs such as internship and study abroad stipends and enhanced student support services.
Overall, donors’ philanthropic support increased by 106% in the decade since the naming gift and the number of additional gifts increased 23% during that same period.
Collectively, this infusion of capital helped the Harbert College of Business support a 71% growth in student enrollment, going from 3,800 undergraduates in 2012 to more than 5,600 in 2022. As a result, Harbert College has become the largest college on campus, enrolling more than 20% of all Auburn students.
The gift also inspired additional investments in scholarships with the total award amount tripling over the last decade—from just over $400,000 (350 recipients) in 2012 to $1.5 million (nearly 700 recipients) in 2023.
During the last decade, the college has provided its students with enhanced learning opportunities, new international experiences, and more personal career guidance and coaching services. As a result, industry’s demand for Harbert graduates has never been stronger.
“Before the naming gift, there was no support for any undergraduate program abroad,” said Professor Danny Butler, Harbert Global Programs assistant dean. “Harbert was the catalyst that changed that and led to the Soaring to 2025 Strategic Plan, which outlined the importance of providing our students with a global mindset.”
In the past 10 years, more than 825 Auburn undergraduates have gained a valuable international business perspective through long- (12 weeks) and short-term (one week) trips to Latin America and Europe while earning course credit toward their business major or, in the case of students outside the college, completing a business minor.
Additional donors—some inspired by Harbert’s matching program that doubled the value of their gift—have generously provided funding to help defer the cost of the international experience, making the trips affordable for more undergraduates.
Two of those donors are alumni Wayne Harris (marketing ‘87) and his wife Anna (education ‘87).
“We have been fortunate to travel around the world as a couple and we’ve taken our kids abroad,” said Wayne, a co-founder and partner at Bridgeworth, a wealth management firm. “It’s really good for the students to see there’s a whole other world out there with different cultures and languages, not to mention the life [skills] they learn while traveling internationally.”
Tyler Kennedy (supply chain management ‘23) spent a week with fellow students and Harbert faculty in Panama in the fall of 2022 as part of the International Business course. The group’s tour of the Colón Container Terminal left a lasting impression on the then-senior, who now works as a senior customer service experience partner for container shipping giant Maersk.
“It was an amazing experience, especially from a supply chain perspective,” Kennedy said. “There is so much that goes into global logistics and moving container ships from one place to another. I also learned a lot from meetings with executives involved in the trade business—things like customs law and cost of doing business.”
Since the naming gift, the college has enhanced its professional support services
For example, each of the six departments now has a program champion—a seasoned industry professional
who advises student organizations, coaches Harbert students on getting internships, and
generally complements the employment preparation provided by
the Office of Professional and Career Development.
Recent graduate Kennedy Beams (management ’23) said her program champion encouraged her to get involved in leadership roles with the Society of Human Resource Management, which helped her land an internship and ultimately full-time employment in HR with Boeing.
“She helped me make the most of my time at Auburn,” said Beams, adding that she’s grateful how her program champion always had confidence in her and provided valuable mentorship.
An original component of the naming gift that focused on research, the Harbert Investment Center has had a big impact on finance-related student organizations, including the Financial Management Association (FMA), which prepares its student members for careers in finance.
“The naming gift helped make the lofty goals that we had set [for FMA] possible,” said Tracy Richard, director of Auburn’s Harbert College of Business Integrated Financial Leadership Program (IFLP), which houses both the FMA and the Auburn Student Investment Fund (ASIF). “With the investment, Mr. Harbert also communicated expectations that the college would invest in excellence and FMA set out to do that.”
FMA students participate in four advanced practical application training classes, travel to prime recruiting destinations like New York City, Dallas, Charlotte and Houston, compete in national and international case competitions, and actively manage the six-figure ASIF.
The return on investment of Harbert’s gift has been stellar.
“Auburn FMA has had 100% full-time placement for our seniors and 100% internship placement for our juniors every year since inception,” said Richard, noting that students are accepting investment banking positions traditionally filled by graduates from Ivy League schools.
In addition, FMA students are outperforming their peers in national and international case competitions. This past spring, an FMA team won the 2023 Global Case Competition at Harvard, one of the most prestigious student-organized case competitions in the world, beating out more than 175 other collegiate teams. FMA student teams are also two-time reigning champions of another international student competition, the Kroll One Team Challenge.
“I always said that Auburn students can compete with the best and brightest from any school. Mr. Harbert’s investment has helped to show this to the rest of the world,” said Richard.
This past year, the college expanded the Harbert Investment Center facility, a world-class experiential learning classroom and leadership center, where FMA and ASIF students use Bloomberg terminals to analyze market trends, manage the investment portfolio, and prepare for case competitions. The Center also includes a dedicated instructional space for all Harbert College students to learn and research.
The foundation of any great academic institution is its faculty because they educate students and generate knowledge that advances the academy and contributes to business thought and practice. The naming gift has enabled the college to hire a host of very promising junior faculty members while retaining prominent and highly regarded senior professors.
“ Top-shelf faculty are needed for a business school to become top tier, and they command higher pay than average faculty, just like happens in any profession,” said Ketchen. “The infusion of funds from the Harbert gift has made a tremendous difference in attracting and retaining the best of the best.”
For example, Ketchen said, the college has recently hired some of the best PhD graduates in the country, including Jessica Darby, who joined the supply chain management faculty in 2020, and Ashley Roccapriore, who is joining the management and entrepreneurship faculty this fall.
When he joined the Auburn faculty in 2006, Ketchen said it was not unusual to lose great faculty members to better pay elsewhere. Specifically, he recalls two rising-star faculty who left Auburn for more lucrative job offers from Big10 business schools.
“Those two individuals are now leaders in their fields,” Ketchen said.
The good news is that, following the Harbert gift, the college now has resources available to help fend off other schools when they try to poach our best performers, Ketchen added.
In all, the naming gift established five new Harbert eminent scholar positions, which has enabled the college to both retain top-performing faculty and entice distinguished faculty from other universities to come to Auburn—for example, David Paradice in Business Analytics and Glenn Richey in Supply Chain Management.
Subsequent gifts from other donors have provided several additional eminent scholar positions, including the Luck Eminent Scholar held by Management Professor Brian Connelly, as well as numerous named professorship and chair positions throughout the college.
These named faculty positions reward top-performing faculty members, who can use the investment income from the position to further their research and teaching.
A highly regarded, award-winning professor, Richey left his position as associate dean of international business at the University of Alabama to come to Auburn as a Harbert Eminent Scholar.
“The eminent scholar position has allowed me to focus more significantly on research and travel,” said Richey, who has lectured on logistics and supply chain management in 33 countries—an activity that elevates the reputation of the college and Auburn University.
The position has also allowed Richey to teach fewer classes, which has freed up time for him to serve as an editor of the Journal of Business Logistics—a flagship journal in the supply chain management field.
Journal editors, who typically review several hundred papers each year, serve as a primary gateway for important research discoveries. In addition to hosting the Journal of Business Logistics, Harbert College hosts the Journal of Management, a premier outlet for management research. The presence of these two prestigious research publications at Auburn reflects the high regard with which Harbert College is held by peer institutions.
Not surprisingly, highly regarded faculty draw top graduate students, who together conduct frontline research that advances the college’s reputation, while shaping business thought and best practice.
The naming gift played a significant role in growing and enhancing the college’s research efforts by launching a new doctoral degree program in finance and providing the funds to support the doctoral candidates.
Since the program was established in 2014, 15 students have earned their PhD and launched their faculty careers as assistant professors at institutions like the University of Toronto, Neoma Business School in France, Manhattan College in New York, Troy University in Alabama, and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Eight doctoral candidates are currently enrolled in the program, which offers specializations in corporate finance, financial institutions and markets, and investments.
“PhD programs are the lifeblood of a research university, and they help us attract the brightest and most innovative researchers to our faculty, which ensures we stay on the forefront of research methods and literature,” said Finance Chair and Professor Keven Yost, a Synovus Fellow. “Our Finance PhD program allows us to prepare outstanding students, who will produce high-quality research that expands the knowledge base of the field.”
Perhaps even more significantly, though, the gift established the Center for Supply Chain Innovation (CSCI), which provides a forum for faculty, corporate partners and students to collaborate and drive thought leadership and practical solutions for supply chain stakeholders.
“Funding the center has produced a stream of revenue for the supply chain management program and the college that has let us do amazing things,” said Richey, adding that interest in the center ultimately contributed to the establishment of the new highly-ranked master’s degree in supply chain management.
Among other things, CSCI has established partnerships with 20 leading industry organizations who actively engage in class presentations, internships, and faculty research. Thanks to the Harbert gift and the industry partnerships, CSCI has the resources to financially support students to attend professional conferences and student teams to compete in high-profile case competitions, like the National Grocers Association event that the Auburn team won for the first time in spring 2023.
Supply chain management faculty have produced timely research studies like the 2020 State of Retail Supply Chain Report, which contained valuable insights on fulfillment automation, human capital fortification, and supply chain digitization that industry used to navigate the pandemic and its aftermath.
Finally, CSCI facilitates real-world consulting projects for both undergraduate and graduate students that have helped industry partners and non-profit clients improve their operations.
In the coming months, we’ll share additional stories about generous donors who were inspired by Harbert’s giving, as well as stories on the individuals and organizations who have benefited from these gifts.
As CEO of Harbert Management Corp, a Birmingham-based independent investment management firm, Auburn alumnus Raymond J. Harbert (BS ’82) manages more than $8 billion in assets sourced globally from high net-worth individuals and families, financial institutions, pension funds, foundations, endowments and sovereign wealth funds.
Harbert and his wife, Kathryn Dunn Harbert, a 1981 Auburn alumna, are responsible for two of the largest gifts in university history—the 2013 $40 million commitment to the college in that led to its naming in his honor and the 2017 $15 million gift for construction of Horton Hardgrave Hall, which opened in 2019 and houses the college’s graduate business programs.