For universities, naming a college of business is an attempt to create a valuable brand.
A degree from Wharton (the University of Pennsylvania), Stern (New York University), Tuck (Dartmouth College) or Booth (the University of Chicago) can be like currency in a young business person's pocket.
Now, Nebraska has its first named university business school: the Heider College of Business, announced today following a multimillion-dollar donation to Creighton University by longtime Omaha investment adviser Charles Heider and his wife, Mary.
The exact amount is confidential, but combined with their earlier donations for scholarships and faculty chairs, the Heiders are now the largest donors in Creighton history, surpassing a $50 million anonymous donation in 2004.
Charlie Heider, 87, a 1949 Creighton business graduate, has long thought the school's enrollment and faculty should expand. He wants the naming donation to build on the 650-student college's move this fall into a newly renovated facility and other improvements at Creighton.
“A larger business school is good for Creighton University and good for our community,” he said. “This is a timely opportunity we want to take full advantage of for all the right reasons.”
Creighton leaders said they hope to make the new Heider College brand as powerful as any other and an asset that improves Omaha's quality of life, houses top students and faculty, and adds vigor to the city's business community.
The Heider family — Charlie and Mary and their son, Scott, and his wife, Cindy — have long been Creighton supporters.
Scott, managing principal of Chartwell Capital, an Omaha investment group, and businessman Mark Huber are co-chairmen of a fund drive to renovate the Mike & Josie Harper Center, plus other campus building renovations and program support.
(Coincidentally, the Booth School of Business is based in the University of Chicago's Harper Center. Both Harper Centers were built with donations by C.M. “Mike” Harper, a U of Chicago alumnus and retired chairman and CEO of ConAgra Foods of Omaha.)
Goals of the fund drive include boosting enrollment to 1,000 in five to seven years and increasing faculty from today's 45 to about 75 to preserve the school's low faculty-student ratio.
This summer, Charlie Heider surprised his family and the university by proposing the major donation and the addition of the Heider name to the college. Scott Heider described his father's wish: “Let's step on the gas a little bit.”
“Yeah,” Charlie Heider said.
“The timing is phenomenal,” said the Rev. Timothy Lannon, Creighton's president, although it's a coincidence that Creighton is joining the Big East athletic conference this year. “We're poised for growth, and we will grow with this wonderful gift.”
Creighton business dean Anthony Hendrickson said the Heider donation is a long-term investment in the college and allows wide discretion in its use, including scholarships, support for faculty members and backing for new ideas.
“It gives you the kind of additional freedom to be transformational,” he said. “It gives us a cash reserve to be able to do those things we dream of as a college,” and signals to other alumni and supporters that the college is worthy of their support.
“We know that there will be opportunities for new programs that we haven't even thought of today,” Hendrickson said. “When those ideas some up, we've got the funds to jump in and compete.”
Instead of hiring one faculty member for a new program, for example, the school could hire two or three.
“As a business school, instead of being an outstanding mid-major, this helps propel us more into a major league competitor,” Hendrickson said. “We think we have a somewhat hidden gem here. We want people around the country to learn about the Heider College of Business.”
Mary Heider is a longtime community volunteer, serving on the boards of several nonprofit groups. Charlie Heider is a mostly behind-the-scenes figure in Omaha, well-known to financial insiders and community leaders but less familiar to the general public.
Most notably, he was the go-between when Warren Buffett bought National Indemnity Co. in 1967, marking Buffett's first entry into the important insurance business. The Heiders' fortune includes early investments with Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., his son said.
“Charlie Heider has been an outstanding investor, a good friend of mine and a great supporter of Creighton — not a bad combination,” Buffett said.
Heider started his investment career in 1954 and became a fund manager and executive with First Mid-America Inc. His clientele grew over the years, most notably when he and Warren Chiles became partners in 1970 as Chiles, Heider & Co. Until last year, Heider was a partner with Omaha investment manager Wallace Weitz.
In 2012, contributions from the Heider family foundation totaled $1.1 million to more than 50 charities, mostly in Omaha and including $401,000 to Creighton and $250,000 to Boys Town.
Heider was on Creighton's board of directors for 17 years, becoming director emeritus in 1997, working on fundraising campaigns and serving on the university's Health Futures Foundation. He was named an honorary Jesuit in 1982 and in 2002 received the Ignatius Leadership Award from the Jesuit Council of Omaha.
In 2003 he received Creighton's alumni Achievement Citation. He and his wife received honorary degrees from the university in 2010. He was named to the Omaha Business Hall of Fame in 2005.
The Heiders were the first to endow two professors' chairs at Creighton, one in cancer research and the other for Jesuit faculty, and established two scholarship funds. Heider Hall, an apartment-style student residence, is named for them.
Lannon praised the Heiders' commitment to Creighton and Jesuit education, including support for Creighton Prep and Jesuit Academy. “They embrace the Jesuit values,” he said.
The business school is the first named college at Creighton. In college fundraising circles, naming a college usually is more permanent — and carries a bigger price tag — than naming a building, Lannon said. Buildings may be replaced, “but colleges live on.”