Ross’ connections with Michigan

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With a lifetime donation of $313 million, real estate guru and philanthropist Stephen M. Ross is now U-M’s most generous donor in the school’s history

Long before Stephen M. Ross was negotiating big deals, he was a young boy with big dreams that started in Detroit, Michigan.

Ross' lifetime donation to U-M is $313 million, making him the most generous donor in U-M history. His September 2013 $200 million gift is the largest single donation in university history.

"Stephen Ross' vision has always been about the ability of facilities to transform the human experience," said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman of the donation. His most recent donation will be split evenly between the athletic campus and the business school. The athletic campus will be named the Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus in his honor.

Ross called U-M's combination of excellence in academics and athletics unique. "When you fuse those together you end up with a school spirit that probably doesn’t exist at any other college in this country," he said.

But the greatest inspiration for Ross was his legendary uncle, Max M. Fisher. Fisher, who made his fortune in oil and real estate, was the quintessential leader who dominated American Jewish philanthropy for half a century. Max supported Jewish and general causes worldwide and played a major role in almost every major Jewish communal organization.


“My uncle is the most important role model and inspiration for me in life…particularly in instilling in me the obligation one has to make the world a better place,” said Ross.

Ross returned to Detroit from Florida, where his parents moved when Ross was in high school, to attend the University of Michigan. It was like a homecoming for him. He borrowed the tuition money from his Uncle Max, but promptly paid him back (the only money he ever took from his uncle). He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Then, he pursued a law degree and then a Master’s of Law in Taxation from New York University School of Law.

One of the greatest lessons he learned from his uncle was to give back, and Ross has done so in a big way. Choosing never to forget where he came from, in September 2004, Ross donated $100 million to his alma mater. It was the largest gift in the university’s 187-year history and the largest gift ever to a U.S. business school. In his honor, the school was renamed the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. In his speech to the students at that momentous occasion, he reserved special praise for his Uncle Max.

During a press conference acknowledging this landmark gift, Max Fisher joined his nephew for the celebration.  Steve thanked family members, including his uncle, for their support. Ross also expressed gratitude for lessons he has learned from Fisher about business and life.

Fisher, who was 96 at the time and passed away in 2005, told the audience that he encouraged his nephew to gift-give to his alma mater. Fisher attended Ohio State University and contributed $20 million to OSU's College of Business building campaign in 1993. In recognition of his gift, the college was designated the Max M. Fisher College of Business.

Wearing a blue blazer with a yellow pocket kerchief, Fisher recalled that when Ross was an undergraduate student, Fisher loaned his nephew money. After graduation, Ross tried to repay his uncle. "I said, 'Stephen, I don't want your money. But I would like to see you use that money for another fine purpose.' I want you to know that I started all of this,” said Fisher.

"A lot of people make a lot of money and don't know what to do with it," he continued, speaking to Ross. "But all through the years I've known you, you were always thinking about helping somebody else. To me, your great success is with people. I love you and appreciate everything you stand for."

Ross says that his success has not changed him. People who know him would agree. He still pinches himself every day, not believing what he has built from his dreams. “I really love what I do,” Ross says. “But what I’m doing is not merely about collecting material wealth; it is about creating and giving back.”

As Ross reflects on his own life, without the intention of ever slowing down, he has but simple words of wisdom to impart to his dear children, “Find something you love to do and give it all you’ve got!”

 “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,” Ross said. “I am thrilled to be able to make such an impactful contribution and to not only help write the next chapter for the university, but also offer much-needed scholarships to ensure we continue to attract the best and the brightest students and provide them with the financial resources they need.

“I am confident that the initiatives we undertake will further transform the business school and athletic facilities and ensure the University Michigan continues to offer a world-class institution for our future leaders. I could not be more proud.”

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