Stephen M. Ross’s donation in 2004 to rename the University of Michigan business school the Ross School of Business: $100 million. David G. Booth’s donation in 2008 to rename the University of Chicago business school the Booth School of Business: $300 million.
Renaming elite schools isn’t cheap. Here’s a list compiled by a Quora user of the top 20 business schools, according to U.S. News & World Report, that includes the price tags for name changes. One point to note when looking at those sums is that we don’t know whether the donors gave the schools more than needed to rename them. Perhaps David Booth could have given the University of Chicago $200 million instead of $300 million for the name change.
The latest headline-grabbing name change among elite schools occurred last year, when the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school became the Perelman School of Medicine after Raymond and Ruth Perelman donated $225 million to it.
Such massive gifts enable schools to fund more research and recruit better faculty and students. And there’s the added bonus of brevity. Wharton, Sloan, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, and Tuck, to pull out names from the U.S. News top 10 business school rankings—all are shorter than, say, “the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Business Administration.”
That top 10 list includes four holdouts for named business schools: Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and Yale.
How much money will it take to rename their business schools? Yale and Chicago, before its rebranding four years ago, said they were open to naming their schools after donors, according to a 2006 BusinessWeek story. Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia are going with “priceless”; they say their business schools’ naming rights aren’t for sale.
A Harvard spokesman told BusinessWeek in the 2006 story that the “brand equity” of the Harvard name “is of incalculable value, and we have no intention of abandoning it.” That explanation perhaps explains why none of Harvard’s graduate schools have personal names attached to them, except for the Kennedy School of Government, named in honor of a famous alumnus, not a donor.
For a school with an endowment of more than $30 billion, it might take more than the record $125 million gift Harvard received from engineer Hansjorg Wyss in 2008 to make the administrators reconsider. Even if Harvard pulled in a check much larger than that—even larger than David Booth’s—it seems unlikely it would give up the famous “HBS” name.
The three schools whose law, business, and medical schools have retained the names of the universities are Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. They’re the richest private schools (except for Princeton, which doesn’t have law, business, or medical programs). And they have the strongest “brand equities.”
Those two factors—their wealth and brand—mean it will probably take massive sums of money to persuade those three universities to change their business school names. Every university must have a price. The only question is how much.