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May 15, 2007
Investing in excellence:
One of Arizona's most prominent business leaders has made a "transformational" contribution to Northern Arizona University with a $25 million gift to the College of Business.
William A. Franke, managing partner of Indigo Partners and former CEO of America West Airlines and other Arizona-based companies, and NAU President John Haeger will announce the gift today at press conferences in Phoenix and Flagstaff.
The $25 million gift is the largest in Northern Arizona University history and will be used for scholarships, faculty development and program development in what will become known as The W.A. Franke College of Business. Franke is especially interested in recruiting and retaining underrepresented and first-generation students into the business college.
"I have sympathy for this issue," said Franke, who grew up in Latin America and graduated from high school in Brazil. "We are a country that since our founding has integrated immigrants and the underrepresented into our society. In today's world, to successfully achieve that integration...you need education."
Franke added, "Business education is a force for economic development and social change. Educating future Arizona business leaders with the right skills can only strengthen the state."
Franke has strong ties to Arizona and the Flagstaff area as former CEO of the Fortune 500 company Southwest Forest Industries and former owner of KNAZ-TV Channel 2. Though he has close ties to the Flagstaff area, he had no formal connection with Northern Arizona University until this commitment.
"When you get to know NAU and the residential experience it offers to students living on campus, you understand how NAU is different and is not a one-size-fits-all university," Franke said. "We hope this gift will take what NAU already has and strengthen it."
"NAU is unique because of our concentration on undergraduate education," Haeger said. "This undergraduate residential institution is a gem in this state, and I don't think anyone equals it.
"This gift is transformational for the university at large," Haeger continued. "It raises the bar across campus—both in fundraising and in reinforcing the quality of undergraduate education."
It was a former NAU undergraduate who set the wheels in motion for the gift. While a business student at NAU, Scott Coor hosted Franke, then CEO of Southwest Forest, as a guest lecturer. Coor asked Franke about a job upon graduation, and Coor was subsequently hired by Southwest. Having remained in touch through the years, Coor approached Franke for a major gift to the College of Business.
Mason Gerety, dean of the College of Business, described the contribution as an "investment in excellence."
The gift will fund scholarships for underrepresented students, support eminent scholars at the college, allow the college to maintain a lead position in technology, support ethics education and promote the college's emphasis on written and oral communication skills.
In his career, Franke said he has seen too many college graduates with "poor basic communication skills and writing skills that are at the margin."
Gerety said the college is committed to graduating students who understand the necessity of strong strategic business planning and who graduate with "a sense of knowing what the right thing is to do in the business community."
Franke has been active in the charitable and civic community and has served as chairman of Phoenix 40, member of the International Board of Barrow Neurological Institute, chairman of COMPAS (arts funding), member of the Dean's Council, Arizona State University business college, and the Dean's Circle, Stanford Law School.
The Franke family has been financial supporters of Sojourner Center in Phoenix, the United Way, Stanford (endowed professorship), and established minority student scholarships at NAU, ASU, the University of Arizona, among others.
Franke noted he does not contribute money to bricks and mortar. "I'm interested in touching the lives of the students."