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$10 Million Alumni Gift Establish New Family Business Initiative at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management

An alumnus who credits his own MBA with the fact that his family business remained in the family and prospered has given $10 million to Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management to establish a new family business initiative at the school.

The gift, from John Smith, MBA ’74, and his spouse Dyan, will create the John and Dyan Smith Family Business Initiative, which will be housed in Johnson’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute.

The Smith’s gift will endow the John and Dyan Smith Professorship of Management and Family Business, the recipient of which will serve as the initiative’s lead faculty member. It also will endow the Smith Family Clinical Professorship of Management, whose recipient will serve as director of the initiative.

Finally, it establishes the Smith Family Research, Program and Faculty Support Fund, which will support a range of activities including academic courses, student and alumni programming, marketing and outreach, presentations by visiting executive speakers and faculty recruitment.

“With the Smith’s generous gift, we can now put in place a systematic program to help prepare students for starting, scaling and managing a family business,” Johnson Dean Soumitra Dutta said in a statement. “The Smith Family Business Initiative will have a profound and lasting impact on family business and graduate business education at Johnson and Cornell.”

Smith believes that the education he received at Cornell’s then Graduate School of Business and Public Administration (BPA) helped him prepare for the federal deregulation of his family’s freight trucking business and enabled that business—CRST International of Cedar Rapids, Iowa—to emerge as one of the 10 largest U.S. truckload concerns while remaining within the family.

“You have no concept of what the competitive pressures are going to bring on your business in deregulation,” he said in a statement. “I met the right professors at Cornell, who convinced me that this was going to happen, and we’d better be prepared.”

“One of the main reasons we are moving forward with CRST remaining within our family is because of education,” Dyan Smith added. “The initiative is the next step to putting Johnson in the forefront of family business management.”

The Smiths’ son Ian, MBA ’15, likely will not benefit from the full range of offerings the Smith Family Business Initiative will include, although Johnson is moving quickly to develop a new and innovative curriculum specific to family businesses. Wesley Sine, faculty director of Johnson’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute, is already at work on a course focusing on the benefits and challenges specific to family businesses. He is also developing the Smith Family Distinguished Family Business Lecture Series, which will bring executives from the world’s most successful family businesses to speak to students on campus.

“Family businesses are the most common type of business on the earth, particularly in developing countries,” Sine said in a statement. “The greater the extent to which we help family businesses across the globe be more successful, the greater our relevance and the larger our impact.”

Learn more about the John and Dyan Smith Family Business Initiative.