Who is Stephen M. Ross, and what will this $200 million be used for?

Sep 4, 2013

In the history of major gifts to the University of Michigan, the $200 million gift from alum Stephen M. Ross is the biggest in the University's history. 

In the annals of gift giving to higher education, it's not the biggest, but it is among the biggest.

Stephen M. Ross is a Detroit native and a U-M alum. He earned a BA from the U-M Business School in 1962, and went on to become a "real-estate tycoon," as the WSJ describes him.

He's the founder and chairman of Related Companies (proving that the name of your company doesn't dictate its success). Related is a real-estate firm based in New York City with projects and developments found all over the world.

On Forbe's list of billionaires, Ross is listed as no. 286:

For real estate developer Stephen Ross, 2012 was a big year: He stepped aside as chief executive of his Related Companies (he'll keep role of chairman) and the company broke ground on New York City's Hudson Yards in December, a $15 billion mega-project to create a new neighborhood on the West side of Manhattan that will include Coach's headquarters and Danny Meyer restaurants. Meanwhile other projects are planned or underway in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Calif., Florida, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi's Sowwah Island, with Gulf Capital.

Oh, and he owns 95% of the Miami Dolphins, which he purchased for $1 billion.

He's got a lot of money, and he plans on giving most of his money away.

Ross signed the "Giving Pledge," a effort organized by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, which calls on the world's wealthiest individuals to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

In his pledge, Ross said he learned the importance of giving from his uncle, business leader and philanthropist Max Fisher (Fisher made his fortune in the oil refining business).

As a very young boy my uncle taught me a valuable lesson, the importance of giving back and using your impact and influence to make the world a better place.

Splitting $200 million

The $200 million gift will be split between the U-M business school and the athletic department.

This is Ross' second $100 million gift to the U-M business school. The school was renamed the Stephen M. Ross School of Business in honor of his $100 million gift in 2004.

U-M plans to use the latest $100 million to build new spaces for business school students, improve classrooms, and for scholarships.

The $100 million going to the athletic department will go toward new facilities and resources for student athletes on all 31 U-M teams.

Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com reports the money will mostly be invested in sports other than football, basketball, and hockey. Jennings quotes U-M athletic director Dave Brandon:

“This investment will really be geared to our Olympic sports, our women’s sports, a number of the sports programs that frankly haven’t had significant investments in the last 10-15 years,” Brandon said. “It’s going to make a lot of student athletes happy.” 

...It seems as though next on the docket will be building practice and competition facilities for the men’s and women’s lacrosse team, as well as renovations and upgrades to the men’s and women’s track building. Brandon also mentioned creating “homes” for the men’s and women’s soccer program and upgrades to volleyball, wrestling, swimming and diving and rowing. 

At a press conference today Ross said "he always loved athletics, I just wasn’t that good at one."

In a statement, Ross said of his gift:

"The University of Michigan had a profound impact on my life and I have received enormous satisfaction from being able to give back to the institution that played such a critical role in my success."

This gift makes Ross the single biggest donor to the University of Michigan with lifetime giving at $313 million.