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.