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““We are going to become one of the elite colleges of business in this country.””
Raymond J. Harbert wouldn’t have it any other way.
Not long after addressing a crowd of approximately 400 on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 5, the Birmingham businessman and his wife, Kathryn, unveiled new blue and orange signage on the fa¸ade of Lowder Hall with a new name — Raymond J. Harbert College of Business — that creates new possibilities for the college.
The crowd of Harbert College alumni, faculty, and students assembled on the Lowder Lawn cheered and offered a Toomer’s lemonade toast to the new name.
Harbert, a 1982 Auburn graduate with a degree in Industrial Management, and principal of the Harbert Investment Corp. in Birmingham, pledged a university record $40 million to the college in June.
Where will the money go? Harbert said he was encouraged by Auburn University President Jay Gogue to create “clusters of excellence” and pick out three, four or five areas to focus on.”
These clusters include:
* Creating additional eminent scholar and endowed chairs to recruit and retain top faculty members in such areas as finance, business analytics and supply chain management. * Establishing the Harbert Investments Center, a research enterprise focused on securities and wealth creation, and other research centers, including a supply chain management research institute. * Forming a doctoral program in finance to help prepare future thought leaders in academia and practice. * Enhancing instructional technologies and classroom facilities.
“My accountant told me, ‘You know we have a meeting on Thursday. We want to know how you are going to fund this,’” Harbert joked.
Chris Baker, a retired executive from Accenture and 1987 Harbert College graduate, likened eminent scholars to “the Cam Newtons of the faculty.”
Harbert’s gift is unique in the sense that it focuses on people and programs rather than bricks and mortar.
“Research centers … they are just like Jordan-Hare Stadium. That’s where faculty and students engage in business,” Baker said. “PhD programs … this is where we bring in the coaches for future business leaders down the road.
“This gift is an amazing transformational gift to the college. It will allow us to become among the elite public business schools in the nation.”
Stan Harris, Associate Dean for Graduate and International Programs beamed over the academic possibilities.
“It will take us to that next level,” he said. “We’ve done a great job with the resources that we’ve had but it really focuses attention on our PhD programs. We’re doing a great job of attracting great students now, but we’re always competing with programs that are offering more and doing more in terms of what they offer graduate students. It’s going to help us move beyond that and help us become much more competitive in the PhD marketplace for good students and for good faculty.”
Harbert was not alone in his contribution. In fact, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.
A portion of Harbert’s commitment includes a “challenge match” gift. He will match the contributions of other graduates and friends dollar-for-dollar up to $15 million, which would effectively turn an initial $40 million gift into $55 million and help the college maintain momentum as the university prepares to enter its next comprehensive campaign. Three College of Business graduates were among a group of donors who answered with “challenge match” gifts of $1 million or more. Kerry Bradley `79 and Laura Bradley, Robert M. Broadway Jr. `91 and Julie Broadway, and David Luck ‘71 and Terri Lynn Luck each made commitments in support of endowed and eminent scholar chairs.
David Luck, President, CEO and Director of ABC Supply Company, said he enjoys giving back.
“One of my first giving priorities is to give back to people and institutions that made a difference in my life,” he said. “If they can make a difference in my life, then I’m sure it can make a difference in other people’s lives. This is really a transformative gift that allows us to do some of the things that create value for our students, value for our state, value for industry, and value for society in general. Aligned with the strategic plan of our business school — it really is an enabler, a catalyst to get these things done.”
The genesis of Harbert’s gift stemmed from a meeting he and Dean Bill Hardgrave had in Birmingham shortly after Hardgrave came to Auburn in 2010.
“Shortly after I went on the Board of Trustees, Dean Hardgrave came from Arkansas … he asked me one day what vision did I have for the College of Business,” Harbert explained. “I said, ‘Bill, what I’d really like is for us to be able to go out and compete and be a better College of Business than the Terry College of Business at Georgia or the College of Business at Florida.’ He said, ‘That’s not a bad goal, or vision.’ So I said, ‘What’s yours?’ And he said, ‘I want to be one of the best colleges of business of any public university in the country.’ I said, ‘Who do you want to compete with?’ He said, ‘The University of Michigan. The University of Virginia.’ I thought, ‘I like this. That’s somebody I could hitch my wagon up to and ride with.’” Harbert had another motive.
“Right after I graduated in 1982, pretty much the entire senior part of the industrial management team of professorship left, and went to (another university),” he said. “It had an impact on me — that Georgia was able to pick off so many of the professors that I thought so much of. And then after going on the Board (of Trustees), I heard how we were losing young professors … I saw a need there.”
“This is the beginning — not the end,” exclaimed Harbert College Dean Bill Hardgrave, who urged faculty, students, alumni and friends of the college to appreciate the gift. “We’re here to celebrate this, but this represents the start of something.”