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Michigan Ross Alumni Leaves a Legacy of Generosity and Inspires Others to Pay It Forward


J. Ira Harris, BBA ’59, left one of the strongest philanthropic legacies one can leave: Not only was he generous with his own time, expertise, and money, he inspired other alumni to give back to the Ross School of Business.

Since 1983, the J. Ira Harris Scholarship Fund has provided more than $1.8 million in scholarships. In total, Harris donated more than $3 million to Ross – a generosity befitting of someone known for often saying, “Go Blue!”

Harris recently passed away at the age of 83 at his home in Palm Beach, Florida. As a longtime donor of the University of Michigan, he and his wife, Nicki, made a lasting impression on Michigan Ross that will be felt for generations to come.

Encouraging students to give back

Harris inspired a pay-it-forward mentality in recipients of his scholarship. To extend the impact of his scholarship, recipients are asked to sign a document stating that they understand the donor’s hopes that they give back following graduation. As a result, 60% of the Harris Scholarship awardees have given nearly $500,000 to support future Michigan Ross students. 

The Harris Scholarship Fund is designated for MBA students who have demonstrated financial need and academic merit. More than 260 students have received the scholarship since its inception. 

Brittani Banks, MBA ’22, is one of 20 students who received a Harris Scholarship during the 2021-22 academic year. Although she never had the opportunity to meet Harris, he certainly left an impression on her. “I cannot graduate from Ross without remembering donors who took a chance on students like me. I would be doing a disservice by not paying it forward to students coming after me. Your (Ira Harris’) support paved the way for another donor.” 

The fact that he had the forethought to include a provision asking recipients to consider contributing to the scholarship fund is why I applied. That pay-it-forward mentality is the Michigan difference in action, and it challenges me to define how I can create a similar impact once l graduate. I also want to thank his family for sharing him with the Michigan community; l hope they know that his contributions will benefit generations to come.

Brittani Banks, MBA '22

Michael Beals, MBA ’22, is another grateful Harris scholar. He said, “Receiving this scholarship support is such a special honor. I cannot thank him enough for his generosity. I’m thankful for this support because it better enables me to focus on achieving my goals here at Michigan Ross, but it also makes me eager to pay it forward in the future when I have the ability to contribute to future scholars.”

About J. Ira Harris

The retired chairman of J.I. Harris and Associates, a financial consulting firm he started in 1998, Harris was an international expert in mergers and acquisitions. After graduating in 1959 from Michigan Ross, Harris returned to his native New York City to begin his career in investment banking. He moved to Chicago in 1964 to head Blair & Co.’s Midwestern operations. In 1969, he joined Salomon Brothers Inc. as a partner, where he held numerous management positions including being a member of the executive committee. In 1988, he left Salomon to become a senior managing director and general partner at Lazard Frères & Co. He went on to form his own consulting firm, J.I. Harris & Associates, in 1998. 

Harris’ generosity toward Michigan Ross and U-M extended well beyond his wallet. He served on numerous university committees, including the President’s Advisory Committee, the Investment Advisory Committee, the Victors for Michigan Campaign Steering Committee, the U-M Club of Greater Chicago, the Athletics Department Advisory Board, and on the Leadership Advisory Board of the Taubman Medical Research Institute. In 1990, he agreed to serve as the national co-chair for the Campaign for Michigan. He also has served on the Visiting Committee at Ross. Harris has three children: Jacqueline, BA ’89; Bradley; and Jonathan, BGS ’94.