January 7th, 2010 | News, University

SOM announces largest alumni gift to date

Though the School of Management has yet to break ground on its new campus, the planned development will get a big financial boost from one SOM alumnus.

University President Richard Levin announced at a Jan. 4 conference in Beijing that Lei Zhang GRD ’02 SOM ’02 has pledged $8,888,888 to the SOM, primarily to aid the construction of the school’s new campus. The gift — which will also provide support for an international relations scholarship and fund China-related activities at Yale — is the largest donation on record from a young University graduate and the largest gift the SOM has ever received from a graduate of the school.

“This truly extraordinary and auspicious gift reflects the deep commitment to Yale that Lei Zhang shares with so many fellow graduates of the School of Management,” Levin said in his announcement, according to the Office of Public Affairs. “Lei’s generosity also represents a significant step toward the realization of SOM’s new campus.”

Zhang explained in an e-mail Thursday afternoon that he hopes his gift to the SOM will serve to strengthen ties between the University and China. Historically, Zhang said, the relationship between China and Yale has been mostly one-way, with Yale usually serving as the benefactor. He said he anticipates that his $8,888,888 pledge will be the start of a more reciprocal relationship.

“I think this is simply the right thing to do at the right time,” Zhang said.

SOM Dean Sharon Oster, who was also present for the announcement, said in an e-mail that the school is currently working with donors to match gifts with spaces on the new campus, planned for Whitney Avenue and Sachem Street. She said she believes the new auditorium there will carry Zhang’s name.

“Part of my delight at this gift comes from knowing that our new building will have names that represent the diversity of men and women who have been part of the Yale community,” she said.

Oster said Zhang, who was raised in central China, came to Yale from a modest background and with little experience in the financial world. At Yale, she said, Zhang found his vocation and now wants to give back to the SOM community — and prompt other graduates to do the same.

“One of Lei Zhang’s explicit goals in making this gift public is to lead by example in his philanthropy,” Oster said, adding, “I have found our Chinese alumni at SOM to be among our most generous.”

In addition to his SOM degree, Zhang received a master’s in international relations from Yale. He is the founder and managing partner of Hillhouse Capital Management, an investment fund named for Hillhouse Avenue, the street that runs through the current SOM campus.

According to the OPA, Zhang chose $8,888,888 as the value of his gift because the number eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture.

  • yalesnark

    Excellent news–and a most generous gift. But one thing I do wonder. If you are obsessed with the auspiciousness of the number eight, why give just seven eights($8,888,888)when you might give eight of them: $88,888,888. Wouldn’t that be far luckier? All in good time, I suppose: he’s only just begun.

  • liurw
  • ’10

    Profited enough in the past few years that he can afford to *donate* $8 million!?

    Someone’s money has certainly been managed!

  • in response to ’10

    It’s obviously from his own wallet Sherlock.

  • Yale watcher

    Yale must have really made a big difference in the mans life. Very good gesture. Good work Zhang.

  • James T. Madison

    Why not $8,888,888.88?

    Two more decimal places of luck for less than a dollar! Such a deal!

  • Elihu’s Ghost

    How long will it take the administration to lose this money in bad investments? I am amazed that anyone would give a dime to this school after the massive loss in the endowment due to the administration’s poor decisionmaking and lack of oversight, for which no one has been fired for some inexplicable reason.

  • @elihu’s ghost

    You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. Lack of oversight and poor decision making? Read Swenson’s book on investing, or better yet, wake up. Look around at institutional endowments. Yale is doing well compared to the world and other similar funds.

  • @ Elihu’s Ghost

    Are you an idiot or an annoying townie? Yes, Yale lost a lot in the recent downturn. It also made MUCH MUCH MUCH more by investing over the past couple decades.

    You can’t only expect winning years. The greater question is whether we’ve been “winning” on average.

  • Helen Li

    Did Yale bother to check the background and real sources of this astonishing largesse from a recent graduate? If young Mr. Lei Zhang is such a money-making genius, would it be more appropriate for him to help the earthquake victims of 2008 and many other worthwhile causes in his own country? At this stage of his life, a modest donation to his alma mater would be more suitable if he wanted to express his gratitude and emotional ties to an instituation that helped him fulfill his dreams and potential. If he knew anything about history, he would know that the so-called “one-way” relation between China and the US was not as simple as it seemed. For example, many Chinese students sent to Yale, Harvard etc. in the 1920s and beyond was funded by returned “war indemnity” as a result of western agression on China. China was exploited and invaded and humiliated, and her people suffered untold miseries and sorrows. Occasional piecemeal scholarships or simialr gestures were well within the means of the richest country on earth. And they had and have the hidden agenda of buying the hearts and minds of the next generation of Chinese leaders as well as cultivating the image of the US as out-reaching and generous. Yale or any other Ivy League had never voiced any objection or regret to those shameful and disgusting chapters of history (and they are not objecting to the Iraq invasion or the slaughter in Gaza last year.) Yale knows that the present leadership in China is one that has increased the gap between the rich and poor to scandalous levels, and their economic and poltical strategies are poisoning and dooming the enviornment, social fabric, justice and human rights for the presenet and future generations of Chinese citizens. Ordinary people are totally controlled by subjugated by a tyrannical, ultra-corrupt, stupid, short-sighted and treacherous ruling junta.

    I am deeply worried about where did those funds actually came from. Is it from the Chinese Communist Government trying buy influence at Yale? Is Yale not worried about the Human Rights records of China? I heard that the CCP have spies in all the major western universities, intimidating dissidents and helping to cover up the dark reality of the “next super-power.” Please re-consider this offer. You have to look beyond the supposed benefit of having a name that reflects that modern diversity of Yale.

  • Recent Alum

    You have to love how Helen Li consistently uses the YDN board as a platform to advance her own ideological agenda, no matter how off topic it can be.

  • Recent Alum

    Also, Mr. Zhang, thank you for your generosity and please ignore the likes of commenter #10.

  • @ Helen Li

    Stop being so paranoid. You are the person that steps into a good party and ruins it.

    FYI, read Lei Zhang’s bio. He is a “money-making genius” who merely attended Yale (SOM) and loves it… this is no government CCP move.

    I for one, like Mr. Zhang, love Yale and I am incredibly appreciative of his gift. I also think SOM is emerging as a really premier school and congrats to them too… I’m sure this is money that will not be wasted.

  • Helen Li

    I am sure that there are people who don’t want any “party-poopers” at the grand courts of Saddam, the Shah of Iran, Pinichet etc. It must be bliss to live in a morality-free zone. Of course, this is not a novel experience for you. Extermination of whole races to create a condition for your “way of life” is THE religion for folks like you. I thought the US is trying to bring “democracy” to Afganistan and Iraq? So how is consorting with dictators in China square with your noble aims.

    In our culture, and maybe in yours too, it is extreme bad taste for a young man of 37 to want a building named after him. It is also very distasteful to make such extravagant gestures when the country that raised and educated you has millions more needs than the US. I have since looked into how Mr.Zhang made his money. It seems that Yale’s endowment funds provided the platform for him to return to China and somehow increased the portfolio from 30 million to 2.5 billion in a few short years. Who were those people in China who stumped up the investment? Of course, the ultra corrupt party bigwigs and their assoicates who suck the blood out of poor Chinese people. What is Zhang’s relation with these cadres? Levin and Oster were in China with Zhang when the donation was announced. Wow, Zhang is one insider and bedfellow with both camps. Who exactly are going to benefit from the “exchange programs?” “Red prince and princesses” no doubt. What exactly did the brilliant Mr.Zhang do between 1989 when he graudated from Renmin Univesity and 2000 when he entered Yale? How did he fund his education at Yale? He is said to be “from a modest background.” Who are his parents? He is said to have scored top in a field of 100,000 in his province. Why was he not at Beijing University instead? We have Chinese students in the UK who use false names, ages and certificates and end up doing badly. What are Mr. Zhang’s grades at Yale? Or would you rather see no evil and hear no evil.

  • Generous Chinese Donor

    Thank you, Mr. Lei Zhang. You make us all proud. Please ignore #10 and her paranoia. She’s either from Taiwan or Harvard/Stanford.

    Yale treats its students generously, and its students will remember the school’s kindness and return the favor after graduation. What could be a more ideal relationship than this?

    Thank you, Yale, for educating such brilliant minds. I hope to see more Chinese graduates do the same.

  • Helen Li Go Away

    Helen Li, if you are Chinese, why are you such a China hater? Are you worried that some Chinese have become highly successful after a Yale education whereas you are still pitiful (and will likely remain so)?

    Go back to Taiwan, where you belong.

  • guest

    hmmm… Helen, why would he not be at Beijing University despite his high scores you ask. Because he got into Yale, and I think most people with that opportunity would make the choice he did…. and if you think they are comparable universities, maybe so, but the Chinese drool like idiots over IVY League degrees…

  • Helen Li

    I truly appreciate the reaction from all and sundry. Why not just ignore me if what I say is totally without foundation and good reason. What depresses me is the childish and un-educated name-calling and pointless conjecture. I am a Hong Kong born Chinese and I love my people and my country though not the murderous Communist Chinese Party which had been instrumental in the death of more than 60 million of my people since its coming to power. I washed dishes to send myself to university, so did my brother who is a Yalie. I don’t sell my soul or hurt my or other people for money. I do very well thank you. Most of the Chinese who came to your country before the 1980s were either from Hong Kong or Taiwan. Americans will tell you how highly they think of those new immigrants. No secret to that. Those Chinese never had the misfortune of being born and bred in a system that uses torture, betrayal, persecution, mindless violence and total lies as tools of governance. I can tell you about the Chinese coming to western universities these days. Many are children of corrupt and evil party cadres who resort to murder, extortion and corruption in their daily offical capacity. How different are they from us. They seem to have no morals, no ethics, sense of decency, and they drip of insincerity. British Universities need their bottomless purse and you find students at Imperial, UCL, Cambridge who cannot even speak English. #17, Zhang had his first degree in China; he came to Yale at the ripe old age of 28.

    As for the matter in hand, I suppose Yale has found a new way to ensure its funding. The Communist Chinese will sell China out for pittance. Promise a place for a cadre’s daughter, and he will invest millions in Mr. Zhang’s company. No problem. Harvard and Standford, take note. You don’t want Yale grab all the red dollars.

  • Goldie ’08

    I don’t know why people are upset he didn’t donate his money somewhere in China. China is a communist nation. I wouldn’t give china a homeless man’s…

  • Helen Li

    A storm of protest has evidently broken out in China expressing unease and anger over this donation. There must be a lot of envious, low-achieving, Taiwan-loving, Stanford/Harvard supporting people in China. If wanting the money diverted to Earthquake victims, AIDS sufferers, poor school children in China is envy and paranoid, I plead guilty as charged; but I will never recover from the shame of being a suspected Standford/Harvard groupie.
    A lot of Chinese were embarrassed by the profligate display of extravagances at the Beijing Olypmics while the poor of China can just “wait for death” when they fall ill. Mr.Zhang’s indecent haste to leave his name in concrete at Yale is equally inappropriate, especially given the circumstances of his wealth and his new relation to the US. No Chinese would object if a Yale-educated, veteran Chinese industialist or business person chooses to give his alma mater a million dollars; but not this flaunting of nouveau riches and seeking of instant glory.
    My father earned enough by Hong Kong standards. But I never even had a single breakfast until I left home for university. All through our childhood and youth, the running theme was constant hunger. The reason was he had to keep more than fifty relatives alive in China with his salary. Afterwards, my family started to sponsor five or six students to go to university in China and continue to do so. Yes,I am grateful to Taiwan and (reluctantly) to Hong Kong for giving sanctuary for over 30 million of my people. You would never have heard of Charles Kao or Paul Chu and many others like them otherwise.
    It has been said that China has to be given certain leeway regarding human rights, corruption etc. when it is trying to develop into a modern state. When a strong middle-class emerge, so the thinking goes, the demand for democracy, rule of law, accountablity and transparency of power would find fertile ground. The opposite is true in China. Those armies of Chinese who managed to accumulate wealth and access opportunites in the past twenty years are by and large relying on favours given by party bosses. The stranglehold on power has not relaxed, and those favoured few are more than ever eager to toe the party line and parrot the revenous greed and ruthlessness of their benefactors. Sixty years of “communist” rule has damaged beyond measure the tradtional virtues and values of the Chinese culture and society. You can go to Beijing any day and find hordes of despearte peasants, workers, from the provinces pleading for justice from the tyrannical and pitiless party cadres and their cohorts.
    Yale is an academic institution. Unlike corporate interests, it should question its way of dealing with a dictatorship like China and not compromise with basic standards of propriety; and it would be wise to advise Mr. Zhang, a relatively young man, to look further than immeidate self-gratification and vanity that cause such disquiet among his countrymen.

  • YC Student, Class of 2011

    Mr. Zhang, thank you for your generosity.

  • Helen Li

    I have read some of the comments in China about Mr.Zhang’s donation. Some call him a traitor, cold-hearted ingrate, trash; and criticise him for “embellishing flowers on velvet instead of sending coal to a shivering house.” The opposing camp praise his “generoisty” and “breath of vision,” and blame the dire state of Chinese universities that are riddled with corruption, fake degrees, plagiarism and lack of prospects for graduates.
    There have been previous Chinese donors to Yale. Charles Kao, though not a rich man, donated the entire $500,000 of his Japan Prize. Laura Cha gave $700,000 to set up a scholarship for Chinese students. Neither attract any objections. Why this present furore?
    At the heart of the problems is the size of the donation, the still-tenuous relation of Zhang to the US, and China’s much greater needs. Zhang lived in China for 28 years before he set foot in America, and received 16 years of education there. For him to publicly say that Yale changed his life and America taught him finance and entrepreneurhip as well as the “spirit of giving” seem to Chinese ears a pretty blanket denial of his roots. I hope Zhang does not think that Renmin University taught him nothing, or forget that the “spirit of giving” is written in the analects of Mencius and Confucius as well as practised by Chinese people all over the world. It is also cringeworthy to hear him gushing about how “Yale have helped China for 100 years and trained many of her leaders and it is about time we pay back.” Yale has been training a lot of AMERICAN leaders who spearheaded a lot of exploitation and aggression in China. Even the few scholarships Yale gave was Chinese money in the first place. In a White Paper, the US clearly spelled out it policy to educate the influence the next generations of Chinese leaders for American interests. There is really no need for such drooling expression of “gratitude” by Zhang. It is very insulting and hurtful if he were speaking for Chinese people.
    Education is the most revered facet of Chinese culture and Chinese people can never give up on the nurture of their next generation despite huge problems. Many overseas Chinese give very generously to schools and universties in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. High-profile gestures and words like Zhang’s is very demoralizing and insulting to the millions of teachers, professors, students who try to do their best. I don’t think Zhang is a traitor or want to slap his people in the face. But in his rush for western appreciation and self-regarding attitude, he demonstrated insensitivity, ignorance, overwheening greed, obsequeouness to westerners, lack of principles, vaingloriouness, and hunger for instant glory. I hope that Chinese youngsters all over the world remember that Chinese peole have a lot of virtues, that China’s people need help, and that self-respect and dignity must not be sacrificed for unthinking self-indulgence.

  • Chinese observer

    A Wall Street Journal article quoted Lei Zhang’s reason for giving back to Yale: “It’s no overstatement to say that SOM changed my life. I learned so much there, and not just finance or entrepreneurship. I learned about freedom and the spirit of giving, which to me is a great reflection of the American spirit.” (http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2010/01/14/chinese-gift-to-yale-earns-big-controversy-at-home/?mod=djemChinaRTRh) Mr. Zhang feels he got an unparalleled education at Yale, and he wants to end the one-way route of always receiving by giving back. I applaud him for doing so. I graduated from a Chinese university, too, and I don’t feel I gained nearly as much from that experience as my American education, so I give to where a deeper debt is owed.

    Helen Li, why don’t you start feeling some gratitude for the chance to study at Yale? I hope you will follow Mr. Zhang’s footsteps in repaying Yale (instead of your British masters).

  • Helen Li

    To Chinese Observer, I assume that you have not read carefully what I have written on previous postings on this page or the comment I left at the Wall Street Journal. Please refer to them.
    Never in my whole life have I heard Chinese people from Hong Kong, in Britain or the US, of all walks of life and varied degrees of accomplishment and history of assoication with the west express such cringingly gushing devotion and admiration for the “American spirit” and other stirring virtues. Elite Chinese had been going abroad to study for over a century. Before the 1950s, the overwhelming majority went back to serve China. Communist rule changed all that. Those few who returned were driven to suicide, suffered persecution and isolation and their career destroyed. It is good that mainland Chinese now have the opportunities to study at Yale. I for one would not quarrel with your appreciation for the undoubted glories at the seat of learning in the west. I did hope that a little of the practices of democracy, rule of law, accountability would seep back to communist China by osmosis. The reality tells me differently. From what I see, he had not invented a cure for cancer or built a hospital for orphans in Africa or China, so I would thank him for confining his hosannas and cartwheeling in private, learn a bit of history and self-respect, and not presume to speak for the Chinese race, dragooning them to pay homage and thanksgiving to a foreign institution which is the cornerstone of American imperial power and prestige. I am sorry for Mr. Zhang and yourself if you think so little of the nurture and education that China gave to you or have no concept of priorities, not only to race but need. You are free to donate to the object of your choice, but please note that not even Charles Kao, educated in England since 17 and worked and lived mostly in the west and many like him , never demean Chinese people by dismissing his roots and adopt a puppy-like devotion to the west. And Kao, though not a rich man donated to his high school in Hong Kong and other Chinese charities before donation to Yale (not for bricks and motar, but for Chinese-US projects.)
    Yale is a very rich institution and if it teaches ethics and morality alongside the sciences and arts and wizardry of management, it would advise its students from poor countries to take care of their own first.
    There is no need to resort to personal insult, it is so unworthy of a man of your great and erudite education. I am chinese, my loyalty is to the people of China and the China I love. We were forced to go abroad because the British government squeezed higher education to its bare bones in Hong Kong. I washed dishes to finance my education. My thanks are to my parents and my family, Chinese and western teachers. I have very fond memories for my American hosts and friends who showed me great kindness.

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