The Queen's School of Business is set to receive a $50-million donation on Thursday, the largest gift to a business school in Canada.
When dispersed over the next few years, the donation from Toronto financier and entrepreneur Stephen Smith is expected to double the size of the school's endowment, which stood at around $54-million (U.S.) in 2014. Currently, the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management has the largest endowment for a Canadian business school at $107.9-million.
The donation "gives us a real opportunity to become the best business school, period, in the country and to be among the best in the world," said the school's dean, David Saunders.
The school will also be named after Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith, who has had a low public profile, said there was "no particular magic" to the size of his gift other than his desire to make an impact.
"I just look forward to making this a transformational gift that is good for Queen's University and good for the Smith school of business to make it the leading business school and to enhance its position as the leading business school in the country," said Mr. Smith, who earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Queen's in 1972, followed by a master's degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Mr. Smith co-founded First National Financial Corp. in 1998, turning it into the country's largest non-bank lender of residential and commercial mortgages. He currently serves as its chairman and chief executive officer. He is also chairman of Canada Guaranty Mortgage Insurance, the country's third-largest mortgage insurance provider, and he is the largest shareholder in Equitable Bank, an alternative lender ranked ninth among banks in Canada.
Mr. Smith has given more than $4-million (Canadian) to Queen's University over the years, including 250 bursaries for students in electrical engineering and economics, and a research chair in the department of economics.
"I wanted to do something in education and probably at Queen's, and then I was looking at where a transformational gift could be made," he said. "Notwithstanding my background in engineering and economics, I have been invested in the business community for most of my life."
In broad strokes, two-thirds of the endowment gift will pay for chairs and professorships, with one-third for student scholarships. Decisions on faculty appointments, research chairs and student scholarships remain with the school.
Mr. Smith made a point of seeking language in the agreement to protect academic freedom of faculty. "I am a big believer in empowering people and I believe in academic independence," he said.
Historically, Queen's officials have rebuffed overtures to name the business school, although the building in which it is housed is named in honour of the parents of Mel Goodes, a 1957 Queen's commerce graduate and a former chairman and CEO of Warner-Lambert Co., who donated $10-million and, more recently, $5-million.
Still, the issue of naming rights is sensitive at Queen's. In 2005, the business school returned a $1-million donation from former Hollinger Inc. executive David Radler immediately after he pleaded guilty to charges of fraud in the United States.
The gift from Mr. Smith received unanimous approval at every stage, beginning with the faculty several weeks ago and ending with the board of governors this week.
"We know the choice of a donor was done carefully," associate professor of marketing Tandy Thomas said, although the identity of the donor was not disclosed to the faculty. "It was a question of it being the right person at the right time."
She acknowledged the importance of private donors amid increased competition among business schools worldwide. "The Queen's School of Business is a great school," she said. "The only way for us to maintain that stature is to keep innovating and to keep moving forward. This gift will give us the ability to do that."