Charles M. Harper, retired chairman and chief executive of ConAgra Foods, has given the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business one of the largest cash gifts in its history, the University announced today.
In recognition of the gift, the business school building on the University’s campus in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood has been named the Charles M. Harper Center.
Harper, who received his M.B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1950, requested that the amount of his gift not be disclosed.
“It is with great pleasure that we announce this landmark gift to one of the University of Chicago’s outstanding professional schools, the Graduate School of Business,” said University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer. “At the newly named Charles M. Harper Center, the Graduate School of Business will train future leaders and innovators in the exemplary mold of Mike Harper himself. His generosity ensures that the GSB will continue to be an international center for business education and research, and we are profoundly grateful.”
Previous large gifts to the school include $25 million from Dennis Keller, chairman of DeVry, Inc., Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, and $20 million from Robert Rothman, chairman and chief executive of Florida Bank Group and chairman of Black Diamond Group, Tampa, Florida.
“Chicago GSB had an impact on the good fortune I had in business,” Harper said. When he joined ConAgra in 1974 as chief operating officer and executive vice president, the company’s stock was trading near $3 per share. When he retired in 1992—after a stock split—it was around $600 a share, he said.
Under his leadership, ConAgra’s annual sales increased from $600 million to more than $20 billion, making it the second largest U.S. food company at that time.
“Mike Harper is a great person and the naming of our building in his honor is fitting,” said Edward A. Snyder, dean of Chicago GSB. “First, he loves the building. Second, he appreciates and indeed is proud of the work that our faculty, students and staff do here. Third, the naming of the Harper Center gives us a chance to tell the wonderful story of his career in building a company into a powerhouse, using his Chicago MBA and his relationships with other University of Chicago alumni to full advantage along the way.”
After a short-lived retirement, Harper joined RJR Nabisco as chairman and chief executive from 1993 to 1996.
At the start of his career he was an engineer for General Motors, then he spent 20 years at Pillsbury, a unit of General Mills. When Harper left Pillsbury in 1974 he was group vice president with operating responsibilities for poultry and food service businesses.
The Charles M. Harper Center, previously known as the Hyde Park Center, was completed in September 2004 at a cost of $125 million. The 415,000 square-foot building was designed by architect Rafael Vinoly in response to the latest innovations in teaching methods and student collaboration. The facility includes 12 classrooms, 2 seminar rooms, 31 group study rooms and 42 interview rooms where corporate recruiters meet with M.B.A. students and where prospective students are interviewed for admission.
The six-story glass Rothman Winter Garden rises through the center of the building topped by curved steel beams that form Gothic arches, a signature of the University of Chicago’s architecture. The building accommodates 1,100 full-time M.B.A. students, 120 Ph.D. students, 230 staff members and has 166 faculty offices.
Chicago GSB has a second campus in Chicago, the Gleacher Center located along the Chicago River near Michigan Avenue. The building is named for Eric Gleacher, chairman of Gleacher Partners and a 1967 graduate and long-time supporter of the school. The school also has campuses in London and Singapore.
For many years, Harper and Gleacher had a close business relationship in which Gleacher served as Harper’s investment banker. Now, years later, they each have a Chicago GSB building named for them. Chicago GSB has raised $283 million in its current capital campaign toward a goal of $300 million. The campaign is part of the Chicago Initiative, the University of Chicago’s $2 billion capital campaign scheduled to end on June 30, 2008.
The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business is one of the leading business schools in the world and part of a University with an international reputation in research and education. The school’s faculty includes many renowned scholars and its graduates include many business leaders across the U.S. and worldwide. It is consistently ranked as one of the top ten business schools in the world and usually as one of the top five. The Chicago approach to management education is distinguished by how it leverages fundamental knowledge, its rigor, and its practical application to business challenges.
Chicago GSB offers full-time and part-time M.B.A. programs, an executive M.B.A. program, a Ph.D. program, open enrollment executive education and custom corporate education.