Georgia Tech receives transformational donation

A Georgia Tech alumnus donated $50 million to the business college -- the largest single cash gift in the institute's history and one officials said will transform the college.

Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson said Monday the previously unannounced donation has already had "an unprecedented impact" on the business school, now one of the nation's top-ranked programs. Tech has so far received more than half the gift.

The donor, Ernest "Ernie" Scheller Jr., graduated from Tech in 1952 with a degree in industrial management. In appreciation of the gift, the university renamed the business school the Ernest Scheller Jr. College of Business.

Scheller first mentioned his pledge during a 2009 meeting in Pennsylvania with business Dean Steve Salbu. He asked Salbu what he thought of having the alumnus’ name on the college.

Salbu felt "total euphoria" when Scheller described his intentions and called the money a "transformational gift."

"Business schools are competitive like a cut-throat arms race and you need the resources to execute your vision," Salbu said.

"Ten years ago we were a fine regional player," he said. "We've become a global competitor and now we are a top-tier business school."

The college has used the money to add nine endowed faculty chairs and professorships, six graduate fellowships and 37 undergraduate scholarships, Salbu said. Scheller specified that the money be spent on people and programs, not bricks and mortar, Salbu said.

The scholarships allowed the college to attract bright students who were considering Harvard University and other top programs, Salbu said. The business college teaches about 2,000 undergraduates and graduates and the caliber has improved rapidly in recent years, he said. Tech enrolls nearly 21,000 students.

Salbu used part of the money to keep a professor who was being wooed by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and has hired top faculty at a time when other programs let people go or couldn't afford to expand. The college had 53 tenure or tenure-track professors in 2006 and will have 83 this fall.

Scheller has already donated $30 million and the gift is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013. The gift, when combined with other donations through a corresponding dollar-for-dollar challenge, will more than double the business school's endowment.

College officials kept the donation confidential until now. Scheller declined requests for phone interviews and was only speaking with reporters who submitted questions in advance and traveled to Pennsylvania for in-person interviews.

Scheller is chairman emeritus of the Pennsylvania-based Silberline Manufacturing Inc., a global supplier of high-quality pigments that enhance the visual appeal of coatings, paints, inks, plastics, and textiles. The product is primarily used in the automobile industry.

His earlier gifts to the business college established scholarships and a faculty chair focused on innovation, entrepreneurship, and commercialization. Tech previously named the Roberta and Ernest Scheller Jr. Lobby and Auditorium after the alumnus and his wife.

In a statement, Scheller said Tech taught him the importance of "perseverance and persistence." He complimented Salbu’s leadership and vision.

"By any barometer you could choose, the college has improved dramatically during Steve’s tenure," he said. "I have never been more optimistic about the future of Georgia Tech and its College of Business, and I am eager to see the great things that will happen there in the coming years."

Prior to the Scheller donation, Georgia Tech's largest cash gift was $48.6 million from Lee Edwards Candler in 1999. The money renovated athletic facilities and improved services for athletics.

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