Historic Gift is a Business Investment
Alumnus Jay Shidler rewards potential and commitment with $25 million
The Shidler College of Business’s namesake, right, and Dean Vance Roley share an ambitious vision for the school
Among the highly successful business people real estate investor Jay Shidler counts as friends are graduates of both prestigious private schools and public colleges. A few members of the latter group exhibit what Shidler calls "ivy envy." When they express a yearning for ivy-league roots, he responds: "Since you can’t change where you went to school, change the school you went to."
That’s what the University of Hawaiʻi alumnus has set out to do… with a record-setting $25 million gift to Mānoa’s business school. The largest private gift in UH history is intended to help transform what is now known as the Shidler College of Business into one of the top institutions in the country.
Shidler is not a new donor, and he may quote the Beach Boys (Be true to your school), but he’s nothing if not an astute investor. When he sat down with College of Business Dean Vance Roley nearly a year ago, he challenged the academician to lay out his vision. Roley described his goals in concrete terms: a place among the nation’s top 25 public business schools within seven years; an MBA program ranked among the top 50, public or private. "I’d like to become the uncontested global leader in business education with an Asia-Pacific focus," Roley says, and he has clear ideas about what that will take.
"The dean started to talk, and I started to listen with business ears," says Shidler. Was Roley’s vision viable? Credible? Was there will behind it? Was it in the cards? "As a business person, I’m interested in a clear set of goals and objectives and a timetable for accomplishing them. That’s what I’m backing." Roley, he came to believe, would stop at nothing short of achieving international excellence.
So Shidler asked himself one final question. "Could I make a difference?"
The son of an Army officer, Shidler lived in several states and countries before graduating from high school in Maryland. His father had received orders for Hawaiʻi, and Shidler selected UH Mānoa for college, completing his bachelor of business administration in 1968. He was no ordinary student. Working part time for real estate firms, he made several successful, if minor, real estate investments. He also initiated and participated in the development of 1111 Wilder condominium and authored a weekly column for Pacific Business News.
After four years as an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, Shidler returned to Honolulu and formed The Shidler Group in a small office in what was then the Amfac Center. He bought properties, which he renovated and repositioned in the market. The company still owns its first acquisition, Polynesian Plaza on Kalākaua. The Shidler Group quickly expanded to the mainland, eventually establishing 12 offices, becoming the largest owner of premium office space in Honolulu and launching three publicly traded real estate investment trusts.
UH was there to help. "I remember a couple of world famous real estate professors the College of Business brought in, including James Grasskamp from the University of Wisconsin. They sat down with us to talk about what we could do to expand the company," Shidler recalls. That’s why he gives a vigorous nod to Roley’s plan to bring more such visiting professors to campus. He is providing support that will help make that possible.
"I’ve never been more excited about my job," responds Roley. "This is significant to the whole community. Shidler’s challenge to us is to excel."
The Shidler gift will also boost the home team talent, providing summer research support for existing faculty and allocations for endowed professorships and fellowships to help recruit and retain the best business thinkers. Scholarship support will expand the pool of businesspeople in a tight labor market. "If you’ve got a great business school, you’ll have great business graduates," Shidler says.
In addition, the master renovator has launched physical improvements to the 35-year-old business school fortress that has been called Kafka Hall and derided as an embodiment of brutal architecture.
"I never imagined I’d be in a position to contribute to UH in a way that makes such an impact," Shidler told the news media when the gift was announced. Still, he isn’t shy about setting down a challenge—$3 million of his gift is dedicated as matching funds to encourage other college alumni or friends to donate toward new professorships, scholarships and fellowships.
After all, Shidler reasons, if you wish you’d gone to a "better" school, you can always make the school you went to better.