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Column: How MIT’s rejection of Ernest Scheller led to $50M gift for Tech

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Sept. 21, 2012

Georgia Tech is lucky that MIT did not accept Ernest Scheller Jr. as a student in 1947.

But Georgia Tech did. And on Friday, Sept. 21, Georgia Tech’s College of Management is being formally renamed the Ernest Scheller Jr. College of Business thanks to a $50 million gift from the 1952 alum.

It is the largest alumni gift that Georgia Tech has ever received, and it is the largest the university has received from a living donor.

In a telephone interview on Sept. 17 — his 83rd birthday, Scheller explained that Georgia Tech “played a big part in thesuccess I’ve enjoyed later in life.”

Scheller went on to run a company that had been started by his father — Silberline Manufacturing, a Philadelphia-based pigment manufacturer that specializes in the aluminum pigments used in the metallic paint finishes of automobiles.

Today, his daughter is the company’s CEO. By the way, Scheller’s wife is named Roberta, and the two are called “Bert and Ernie” by their close friends and family.

Georgia Tech taught Scheller two things — perseverance and persistence.

“I learned that if I was going to graduate from Georgia Tech, I would have to work harder at it than anything else I had done in my life,” Scheller said. “I had to learn to stick with it, and that’s helped me throughout my business career.”

His father actually had wanted him to go to MIT, but Scheller was not accepted.

But when he was accepted to Georgia Tech as well as other schools, he decided the weather would be best in Atlanta.

Today Georgia Tech’s business school ranks eighth in the country among public universities.

“I would like the business college at Georgia Tech to be No. 1, and I think it’s important we strive to be No. 1,” said Scheller, explaining why he made such a generous gift.

“There’s no reason to think small,” agreed John Brock, CEO of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., who is chairing Georgia Tech’s current $1.5 billion campaign. Brock said the Scheller gift would be “transformational” for the school.

“Georgia Tech’s business school has vaulted into national prominence,” Brock said. “There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big.”

Scheller has been a loyal Tech alum since he graduated — contributing to its annual campaign — the roll call — for 59 years.

Back nearly a decade ago, the then-dean of the business school, Terry Blum, invited Scheller to serve on the College of Management Advisory Board.

And that’s when the big giving began — first $500,000, then $1.5 million and then the $50 million. In all, Scheller has given more than $53 million to the institution.

Looking back at how Georgia Tech and Atlanta were 60 years ago, Scheller said: “The changes that have taken place have been incredible and all for the better.”

Tech campaign update. So far, so good. As of Aug. 31, Georgia Tech has raised $1.17 billion toward its $1.5 billion goal.

“It’s going extremely well,” said John Brock, CEO of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. and chair of Georgia Tech’s campaign. “We expect to be at $1.2 billion by the end of the year. That means we will be at 80 percent of the way to the finish line within 70 percent of the time.”

The campaign is expected to be completed successfully by the end of 2015.

“We have some 68,000 contributions ranging from $5 to $50 million,” Brock said. “We have a lot of friends, and we value them all.”

Barrett Carson, vice president for development at Georgia Tech, broke down the campaign this way: There’s a $600 million goal to increase the endowment, and so far it has raised $425 million toward that goal. There’s a $400 million goal for facilities and equipment, and the campaign has raised $278 million toward that goal.

And there’s a $500 million goal for current operations, and so far the campaign has raised $446 million.

Carson also highlighted a couple of other pieces of the campaign. It includes $44 million for the Engineered BioSystems Building, which will cost a total of $113 million — the most expensive building in Georgia

Tech’s history

Also, the campaign goal for the Scheller College is $175 million. Thanks to the $50 million gift, the business school has raised $149 million. “They are in very good shape,” Carson said.

Also, 47.5 percent of all the gifts to the campaign have come from alumni, and donations from corporations account for 27 percent.
All other donations make up about 25 percent of what’s been raised.

Holocaust memorial

Three Georgians and a Georgia company will be honored at a special dinner Nov. 13 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Those that made $1 million gifts to the world-renowned museum were developer Charles Ackerman; Billi and Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot Inc.; and The Coca-Cola Co.

Sara Bloomfield, director of the Holocaust Museum, came to a breakfast Sept. 19 at the Commerce Club, to promote the Nov. 13 event, which has an all-star list of co-chairs.

Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory professor, and Michael Morris, the son of Billi and Bernie Marcus; are the honorary co-chairs. The dinner co-chairs are: Ann and Jay Davis, the Hon. Mona Tekin Diamond, Kirk Dornbush Jr., Ingrid Saunders Jones and E. Jenner Wood III

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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