Jeff Barnett / Lantern photographer
On a day that was described in an e-mail as one to “which we can point as a time of great historical significance for the future of our institution,” Leslie Wexner, a 1959 Ohio State alumnus and chairman and CEO of Limited Brands Inc., donated $100 million to OSU.
Announced publicly Wednesday morning, the gift is not only the largest philanthropic gift in OSU history, but “one of the largest gifts to higher education in Ohio,” said Tom Katzenmeyer, senior vice president of university communications.
In an event oriented around students at OSU, President E. Gordon Gee and Wexner discussed the significance of the gift with more than 300 people at the U.S. Bank Conference Theatre.
“This is a pure gift, given in love and respect for the university,” Gee said to the attendees. “That type of philanthropy will be transformative.”
Shelly Hoffman, assistant vice president for media relations, said Wexner’s gift will be spread out across a nine-year period, to be completed in 2020, with $20 million being donated this year. Hoffman also said $65 million of the $100 million is a personal gift from Wexner and his wife, Abigail. The other $35 million of the gift is from the Limited Brands Foundation.
Dan Levin, a professor of economics at OSU, said the distribution of the donation over several years gives OSU more time to plan how to use the money more effectively.
Hoffman also confirmed that the donation is the largest donation to OSU by a margin of $70 million. In 2001, Michael and Lou Ann Moritz donated $30 million to the law school and the university and in 1989, Wexner donated $25 million.
After the presentation, Gee and Wexner spoke to reporters about what this kind of investment toward the future of the university really means.
“This is a world-class university. When someone invests that amount of money, what they’re saying is it is not only worthy of my investment, but it makes it so much better by the kind of things that can happen,” Gee said.
Wexner spoke about what OSU meant to him.
“The university has had a great impact on me. But for Ohio State I wouldn’t have gone to college. But for Ohio State the views I have of the world, my views on responsibility, wouldn’t have been formed,” Wexner said.
During a question-and-answer session with students, Wexner offered advice about taking risks and being a leader.
“Whatever you do, you have to have a passion about it, whether you play basketball, or business, or law or medicine. I think you have to pursue your interests with a full heart of passion and curiosity,” Wexner said.
Wexner, 73, is the current chairman of the OSU Board of Trustees. Limited Brands is the parent company of both Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret.
The money will be used primarily for the OSU Medical Center, the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, the Richard J. Solove Research Institute and the Wexner Center for the Arts, according to the press release.
Gee said Wexner came to OSU in December with the news of the gift. Gee said they finalized the financial details before they knew where the money was going. Hoffman said specifics are still being worked out.
John Kagel, a professor in economics at OSU, said donations like these tend to spark donors to line up and give to the university.
The best way to repay Wexner is by following in his footsteps, said Kyle Pacelli, a second-year in finance..
Steve Winick, a second-year in accounting and finance, said it is hard to understand the full magnitude of this donation.
“It’s obviously historic and something we can look forward to,” Winick said.
Undergraduate Student Government President Micah Kamrass said this donation is important to the Ohio State community for several reasons, including cancer research.
“Cancer research, which a lot of this money is going to, is something that will impact every one of our lives, either directly or indirectly,” Kamrass said.
Wexner said he hopes that with this money, OSU researchers will be able to change the world and find a cure for cancer.
“We can do it here. We can do it now,” Wexner said in the announcement. “There is no utility in saying maybe.”
Jennifer Williams, a second-year in nursing, attended the event celebrating the donation.
“The medical center and jobs in the future will feel the effects of this donation,” Williams said. “I don’t think there is enough thanks we can give (Wexner) to express our gratitude.”
Dr. Steven Gabbe, CEO of the OSU Medical Center, said the gift sends a powerful message to everyone at the medical center.
“(This gift) will enable us to advance even more rapidly our goals to be one of the best academic medical centers and cancer centers in the country,” Gabbe said. “The efforts that we’re making to create new ways to teach, new ways to care for patients and continue to do the most important research to improve peoples’ lives.”
According to the Forbes 400 list, Wexner’s net worth is $2.9 billion, and he ranks as the No. 119 richest person in the United States. A Limited Brands proxy statement says that in 2008 and 2009, Wexner’s base salary more than $1.9 million per year.
Gee sent an e-mail to the OSU community Wednesday morning informing them of the donation Wexner had made. Gee said working with Wexner has been one of the great privileges in his life.
“(Wexner is) a person whose moral force combines seamlessly with vast intellectual capital, imagination and ingenuity,” Gee said in the e-mail.
Pacelli said this gift is an investment in OSU’s future.
“I think it’s a matter of following the precedent set by Mr. Wexner, learning from people like him and trying to live your live like that,” Pacelli said.
Gee showed appreciation for Wexner’s continued dedication to the university.
“We celebrate Les Wexner’s commitment to this university, to his unwavering optimism in the power of public education and to the unassailable truth that is the American Dream,” Gee said.
Nick Otte contributed to this story.