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As a student and later leader of his family’s appliance-making business for 31 years, 78-year-old John F. Wood established close links with two Ontario universities. Now, he has donated $7-million to each of their business schools, with an eye to boosting their respective strengths.

The latest $7-million gift, announced on Wednesday, goes to the University of Guelph’s college of business and economics.

“The idea of him giving to two business schools with different areas of focus is really remarkable,” says Julia Christensen Hughes, dean of the college in Guelph, Ont. “[He] is a local man whose company had global reach and who believed in the power of community.”

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John F. Wood's $7-million donation to the University of Guelph's business school is the largest in its history.

KC Tam

With the donation, the largest in the college’s history, it aims to build on its activities, in and outside the classroom, in entrepreneurship and community engagement.

Two months ago, Mr. Wood also pledged $7-million to the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School, known for an experiential-focused case method of teaching, to expand its efforts to test innovations in management education.

“He has a passion for both schools and a passion for business,” says Susan Frasson, daughter and a spokesperson for her father, who has health issues. “To give these two universities the tools they need and the funds they need to create really great, exciting business programs that will inspire and motivate young people gives him such a thrill,” adds Ms. Frasson, president of Coldpoint Holdings Ltd., a Wood family development company.

Mr. Wood’s ties to both universities run deep.

In 1964, he earned an undergraduate business administration degree from Western in London, Ont., winning the gold medal for top academic performance. In 2012, when making a separate gift to the Ivey school, Mr. Wood praised its case method as “no better way to learn business.”

During his time as president and chief executive, until 2005, of Guelph-based W.C. Wood Co. Ltd. (North America’s second-largest manufacturer of household freezers, refrigerators and dehumidifiers until it closed in 2009), he was a member of the University of Guelph’s board of governors for five years until 1979.

The new gift from Mr. Wood, whose name has been added to the Centre for Business and Student Enterprise at the college of business, is “a game-changer for us,” says Dr. Christensen Hughes, who praises Mr. Wood for his recent role as a mentor to her on several school initiatives.

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“He really encouraged me to strengthen our accounting program and to do more in the area of entrepreneurship than we had been doing,” she says. “We also saw eye-to-eye on the idea that business schools should not be a fortress separate from the rest of campus.”

She says his donation will support the recruitment next year of two academic chairs in his name for entrepreneurship and community engagement, as well as startup funding and mentoring for Guelph students across campus, and alumni, to work on business ideas at the college’s Hub Incubator Program.

The Wood gift also includes travel funds for students who, as part of their studies, act as consultants to real clients to solve economic sustainability problems. This year, at the request of officials and residents on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, students travelled there to offer advice on the community’s economic future.

At Ivey, acting dean Mark Vandenbosch says Mr. Wood’s gift is a “catalyst” to current school efforts to modernize management education.

“Disruption is coming to higher education,” he warns, with technology fuelling change. “We have to be on top of making sure we are not only ahead of the curve but also that we can make sure we are part of the disruptors rather than the disruptees.”

He says Ivey plans to allocate the Wood gift in three areas of teaching and learning: modernization of case-based education; new applications of technology; and strategic use of so-called blended learning that occurs online and in the classroom.

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“The [donation] is helping us make sure we do continual improvement in the way we do case teaching,” says Dr. Vandenbosch, adding “we also want to look at how can we use technology to augment what is happening in the classroom.”

A new Centre for Innovation in Business Learning, and its future director, a new academic chair on the same topic, have been named for Mr. Wood, with a research focus on innovative curriculum and the relationship between technology and in-person learning.

With the donation, the school also plans to establish a course and curriculum development fund to assist faculty in the development of new courses and expand Ivey’s outreach to secondary-school students. A global symposium, also named for Mr. Wood, is expected to explore new approaches to teaching and learning business.

“We are thrilled by the gift," Dr. Vandenbosch says. “It is the foundation of what stuff we are going to be doing in this area rather than the only thing we are going to do.”

Follow Jennifer Lewington on Twitter @JenLewington or contact her at jlewington@bell.net.

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