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John Edwardson gives $5 million
to the University of Chicago
Booth School of Business


Donation is founding gift to Social Enterprise Initiative

John Edwardson, retired chairman and chief executive of CDW, Vernon Hills, Ill., has given $5 million to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business as the founding gift to the school’s Social Enterprise Initiative, which supports student, faculty and alumni interest in the social sector, the school announced.

The social sector includes for-profit and nonprofit organizations with a mission to improve social outcomes that are governed and financed to support their mission.

The funds will be used to support the core activities of the Initiative, which include helping students launch and grow businesses in the social sector, matching alumni interested in board service with nonprofit organizations, and supporting student groups and career interests in the social sector. 

The gift will also be used to fund faculty research and data collection, a major activity of the Initiative. 

In recognition of the gift, the Chicago Booth business plan competition for social ventures has been renamed the John Edwardson Social New Venture Challenge. 

Edwardson received an MBA from Booth in 1972. He is chairman of the Council on Chicago Booth and a member of the University’s board of trustees.

“Generating understanding that improves human life is at the core of the University’s mission,” said Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago. “John Edwardson’s gift speaks to that core value in a very particular way, helping to support initiatives that simultaneously promote entrepreneurial innovation and social benefit.”

“The Social Enterprise Initiative is uniquely Chicago,” said Sunil Kumar, dean of Chicago Booth. “It builds on Chicago Booth’s long-standing culture of rigorous analysis and our discipline-based approach to understanding organizations, markets and policy. 

“John Edwardson’s philanthropic leadership will help us integrate academic research on issues that are important to the social sector with educational activities. In turn, we can effectively study and help develop more effective organizations,” Kumar said. “The social sector can benefit from proven market-oriented ideas and best practices from the for-profit sector.” 

Edwardson said the Social Enterprise Initiative is a natural outgrowth of the interests and approaches Chicago Booth students and alumni take to their work.

“I am delighted to support Booth’s Social Enterprise Initiative,” Edwardson said. “Booth students, faculty and alumni are engaging in a variety of ways in the social sector, from starting their own social ventures, to choosing a career in the impact economy, making a meaningful commitment to philanthropic and volunteer activities, and doing academic research.” 

Led by faculty co-directors Marianne Bertrand, the Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, and Robert Gertner, deputy dean of the Part-Time MBA programs and the Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance, the Initiative brings together researchers with social sector interests from across the University’s academic disciplines, including economics, finance, marketing and psychology.

Edwardson was chairman and chief executive of CDW from 2001 to 2011. He remained chairman until he retired in 2012. The company is a leading provider of technical products and services for business, government and education. Earlier in his career he was president of United Airlines, chief financial officer of Northwest Airlines, president of Burns International Services and executive vice president of Ameritech, now part of AT&T.

Edwardson received Booth’s Distinguished Corporate Alumni Award in 2006, for his successful track record in business. 

“There has been a big increase in student interest regarding how proven business practices can improve efficiency in the social sector and how businesses can think strategically about how they produce social good,” said Gertner, faculty co-director of the Initiative. “The Initiative will support greater social impact through the education of leaders across the business landscape interested in social sector ideas and dedicated to applying rigorous thought and proven business practices.”

“There is a shortage of rigorous research on the social sector as a whole, including its funding and incentive structure,” said Bertrand, the other faculty co-director. “With the resources now made available to us by John’s gift, our faculty can conduct research in these areas, and the conversation can go deeper.”

Current and recent research on the social sector by Booth faculty includes field experiments on financial literacy and financial decision-making by the poor, studies on the impact of health and education reforms on development, and social psychology foundations of altruism and volunteerism. The Social Enterprise Initiative will host a conference on impact investing for academics and practitioners later this year.

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business is one of the leading business schools in the world. The school’s faculty includes many renowned scholars, and its graduates include many business leaders across the U.S. and worldwide. 

The Chicago approach to management education is distinguished by how it leverages fundamental knowledge, its rigor and its practical application to business challenges. 

Chicago Booth offers a Full-Time MBA Program, an Evening MBA Program, a Weekend MBA Program and an Executive MBA Program in Chicago, London and Singapore. The school also offers a Ph.D. program, open-enrollment executive education and custom corporate education.