Emerson Charitable Trust commits gift for auditorium in Olin Business School’s new Knight Hall

Auditorium will serve as enduring reminder of Emerson's long history of business excellence

At the groundbreaking ceremony May 7 that ushered in the Olin Business School’s next major expansion on the Washington University in St. Louis Danforth Campus, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton announced a commitment of $3 million from Emerson Charitable Trust.

The groundbreaking was for two new buildings — Knight Hall and Bauer Hall —needed to address the growth of the school’s graduate business education programs that are attracting increasing numbers of world-class faculty and students.

Emerson’s gift is designated for a much-needed auditorium for the growing number of special events, lectures, conferences and student activities offered by Olin. The 300-seat venue will be located on the first floor of Knight Hall, making it a convenient destination for the campus community as well as visitors.

“Under the leadership of David Farr, chief executive officer of Emerson, the company has made a generous commitment to name the auditorium in Knight Hall,” Wrighton said. “The gift honors Chuck Knight’s visionary leadership of Emerson from 1973-2000 and serves as an enduring reminder of Emerson’s long history of business excellence that continues with David Farr as its chief executive.”

Lead gifts totaling $25 million for the two facilities have come from philanthropists Charles and Joanne Knight, $15 million; and George and Carol Bauer, $10 million. The estimated cost for completion, in the spring of 2014, is $90 million.

Knight and Bauer halls will be built on the current site of Eliot Hall and adjacent to the Charles F. Knight Executive Education Center.

“These gifts from two of our most dedicated friends and benefactors will provide the capital foundation to build Olin’s second century as a world-class business school,” said Mahendra Gupta, PhD, dean of the Olin Business School and the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professor of Accounting and Management.

“The expansion will nearly double Olin’s footprint on the Danforth Campus, but more important, it will provide the space needed for more classrooms, more faculty offices, and a number of suites, lounges, group study and forum areas, meeting and seminar rooms to support the variety of learning approaches to educate our future business leaders,” Gupta added.

The Knight/Emerson legacy began more than 30 years ago when Knight led the 1980 Business Task Force whose purpose was to design a strategy to take Olin to the next level of greatness as a nationally recognized leader in business education.

The first step in realizing the 1980 goal was a new building, and an important second step was building a strong endowment that would ensure continuing success in attracting talent to the school, both students and faculty. In the 1980s, Emerson stepped forward with leadership gifts totaling $5.2 million for both of these purposes, partially in response to a $15 million endowment challenge from the John M. Olin Foundation.

In 1995, Knight’s pivotal role in Olin’s success was repeated, this time with his leadership in the Task Force’s successor, the Olin National Council. One of the key objectives for the business school’s continued expansion was to strengthen executive education programs, and in 1997, Knight and Emerson Electric stepped up with a $15 million challenge grant to build a state-of-the-art center.

Dedicated in 2001, the Charles F. Knight Executive Education Center is home to the executive MBA program, recently ranked No. 2 worldwide by the Wall Street Journal.

The beginning of the 21st century marked another leap for Olin, again with the help of Emerson. In the 1990s, Farr, then the Hong Kong-based president of Emerson Asia-Pacific, successfully expanded the company into the global marketplace.

After succeeding Knight as chief executive officer in 2000, Farr saw an opportunity to help Olin build an international presence, and Emerson made a financial commitment to help Olin establish a strong presence in Asia. Since 2001, when the business school began its joint executive MBA program with Fudan University in Shanghai, China, its international links continue to thrive.

“Spanning three decades, both Chuck Knight’s and David Farr’s leadership and commitment to the Olin Business School’s progress, coupled with their extraordinary and enduring generosity, are apparent not only in the excellent physical facilities, but also in the recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty and students,” Gupta said, alluding to the Emerson Professorship in Manufacturing and Operations Management as well as the Emerson Scholarships and the Knight Scholars awards.

Reflecting upon the history of Washington University and the Olin Business School, Wrighton said, “The founders might not recognize our campus today, with Simon Hall serving more than 1,500 students, faculty and staff, and the Knight Center in constant use by executives and regional businesses, but they would be proud to see how their legacy has evolved into an internationally recognized university with a diverse faculty, student body and alumni network that spans the globe.

“Olin has played an integral role in the growth of the university and is poised to begin its second century as an established leader in business education.”

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