There were two main reasons why Robert Pritzker and I made our large gifts to the university in 1996. It started with our spirit of confidence that in President Lew Collens, IIT had the prospect of real leadership. This leadership proved to be the reality, for which we felt there would be achievability should we make a healthy investment of funds in the university.
Second, Bob Pritzker and I have always been of the mind that people who teach at IIT as well as a very large number of students have a strong backbone in terms of getting things done, and an understanding of the utility of a good education once you get it. At Motorola, to name just one example, there were a number of people who came out of IIT who were very practical engineers and effective managers, including two former presidents of the company.
There were many good professors and administrators who talked about moving the university forward. We thought that if we could dream up a general strategy for the institution, that it would be very helpful for the long-term health of the institution. This desire led to the National Commission for IIT, in which the outcomes became the thinking of pretty sage people.
At this point, we were confident that we had a strong base of leadership and planning at the institution, and knew that there needed to be financial support to help those changes happen.
Bob and I didn’t negotiate tangibly to each give IIT a figure of $60 million. We just thought, “These are common-sense goals that ought to be achieved, if the institution has the resources.” Lew wasn’t afraid of taking a chance, Bob Pritzker wasn’t afraid, and my approach to many things is that we should try it as long as it does not involve jumping off a cliff.
The three of us did spend upwards of a half-dozen times together before announcing our gifts, building our mutual confidence based on ideas from the commission. Basically, we sold ourselves that it was a good thing.
Bob was initially a more encouraging person with regard to the size of the gift. It didn’t take me long to get used to it. All those numbers get pretty big, you know, and I was willing to follow Bob’s good guidance.
We had a good mutual building of our troika confidence, and there were other people around us, including Trustee Al Self, who gave important input. Other people also were very confident that all these goals were worth the try—and that IIT would become one of the best universities in the Chicago area.
Bob and I had come to the proposition that gifts in the range of $50 million from each were going to be necessary. That would add up to $100 million. One of the thoughts that one of us suggested was that others should match our gifts. That would lead to $200 million, which is very good.
But in the course of our deliberations, we said, “Let’s not play this thing too short. Let’s do something incrementally more.” What is an increment? If we put in $10 million more each, that gave us $120 million. Add a matching campaign, and you get $250 million, which sounded better. In other words, if we each put in $60 million, we could go for a quarter of a billion dollars. It was one of those loose arithmetic situations.
Pretty soon, we just looked each other and said, “If your family is going to give $60 million, our family is going to give $60 million. Let’s see if we can get some other people behind us to raise another $130 million.”
Other people helped us in exceeding the $250 million goal we had set. Since then, the university has made tremendous strides, and is poised to do even bigger things going forward.