But they’re also taking a risk in accepting the multi-million-dollar checks. Even Asper himself acknowledged it after making his $10-million donation. He said it would be much less problematic if the schools were named after an entrepreneur who had already passed away. After all, there was always a chance somebody like him might screw up and embarrass the school.
“What if we had called it, ‘The Martha Stewart School of Business’?” he said shortly after the home-decorating mogul had been given a jail sentence for insider trading.
David Asper, Izzy’s oldest son and executive vice-president of the company his father founded, says his family takes a “huge source of pride” in being associated with the business school. They participate on the school’s advisory board and look forward to the frequent updates they receive about what and how the students are doing.
He says neither he nor his siblings, Leonard, the CEO, or Gail, who is corporate secretary, operate the media conglomerate any differently because their family name is on a school of higher learning for business.
“You don’t have to be a role model. Either you’re honest and hard-working or you’re not. If you have to think about it, it’s probably not a good sign,” he says.
Wynant acknowledges the risks as well. He says there have been numerous examples, particularly in the US, where a donor’s reputation has been damaged and either directly or indirectly affected the name of the school.
“In our case, the Ivey family's multi-generational business success, commitment to the community, long-standing relationship with the school, and the fact that there were numerous graduates from the business school in the family, were all clear indications that they were the ideal partner with this school,” he says.
Coupland says the chance of a business school philanthropist causing irreparable damage to their namesake is low; there’s little recourse in the event they do.
“It’s completely uncontrollable from a reputation point of view. It’s hard to gracefully change the name of the school again if something like that happens,” he says.
Coupland notes that a further challenge for many re-branded business schools is they’re usually named after an entrepreneur or business person who has a strong reputation locally but is less well known across the country or around the world.
“Is somebody in Western Canada going to be familiar with the Ivey or Rotman schools? There’s a real chance the name won’t have any currency with people in other provinces. The universities have a lot of work to do to tell their stories. Otherwise, it’s just another name you haven’t heard of,” he says.
Coupland says a critical question for business schools is whether potential students are making their decision based on the school itself or the university.
“You’ve got the marketer believing they’re selling the Rotman School of Management but the customer is potentially buying the University of Toronto. Naturally, the faculty wants to market itself under its newly branded name but they won’t be using their marketing dollars effectively if they’re not getting equity from the Rotman name,” he says.
Paul Bates, dean of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Hamilton, agrees and that’s why his institution has taken a slightly different approach. He says it recently polled executives across the country and found the unaided recall that came through the strongest wasn’t the moniker of the business school but the name of the university.
That’s why the school is always referred to as “the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University.”
“We think the university brand is an important part of the cachet of the school,” he says, noting the specificity of image that many schools are trying to create runs the risk of confusing the marketplace.
“I believe to do it as a separate entity is dangerous,” he says.
Part of the school’s brand is what it develops for the workplace, what it refers to as its “market-ready graduates.”
Bates says the school makes sure its students are able to reinforce that part of the brand before heading out into the real world through its co-op and internship programs. That’s where they’re able to work on their math and analytical skills as well as their softer human resources skills.
“When we use this expression in the workplace, people say two things—we understand it, it's not a $50 word. And it's exactly what we would expect from McMaster,” he says.
But not all schools see the benefit in taking the re-branding route, Coupland adds. One example is Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, which has a strong brand and reputation as a business school without attaching itself to a particular business person.
“If they were to rename themselves, given that they’re at or near the top of the category in brand reputation, they’d force the market place to relearn who they are,” he says.