From the day Columbia Business School opened its doors in 1916, women freely walked through them. Eight women from across the country were among the first students admitted—nearly a half-century ahead of Ivy League peers Harvard and Wharton. Women also recognized the value of uniting as a community from the start, with the School’s first council for women founded in 1917.
Over the decades, the influence of women on Columbia Business School has continued to grow. The number of women enrolled as MBA students has increased from 13 percent in 1916 to more than 41 percent today. More than 400 women belong to Columbia Women in Business (CWiB), making it one of the school’s largest student organizations. Strides are being made in increasing parity on the faculty, with women currently making up nearly 46 percent of junior tenure-track faculty. Among alumnae, approximately 10 percent have founded businesses or hold C-suite titles.
Now, with new facilities on the Manhattanville campus, a group of alumnae have conceived of a unique opportunity to collectively recognize the women of Columbia Business School—past, present, and future—and celebrate the school’s vibrant community of women by naming the Board Room in David Geffen Hall in their honor.
The goal is part of the Manhattanville Women’s Initiative, an endeavor undertaken by a group of alumnae that includes Shelly Lazarus ’70, who initially conceived of the idea, Shirley Fan Wang ’93, Elizabeth (Lise) Strickler ’86, and Columbia Business School Board members Maria Chrin ’89, Ming Chu Hsu ’92, Rebecca John ’01, Ann F. Kaplan ’77, Tracey Travis ’86, and Lulu Chow Wang ’83. The women are hoping that all alumnae, as well as students, will participate in the community effort to name the Board Room after the women of Columbia Business School.
The initiative’s objective is to celebrate the dynamic community of women, their achievements, and their importance to the School by more visibly representing them in the new Manhattanville campus.
“When the School started fundraising for these two new buildings, it struck me that it would be a wonderful thing, as women were becoming more and more present in each class, to have a gift from women who had gone through the halls of Columbia Business School to honor all the women of our community, past, current, and future,” Lazarus says.
“Women are half the universe. We want to get to a point where women are half the universe everywhere and of everything—half the students, the faculty, the CEOs, and half the giving,” she adds.
The power of community is an important aspect of the initiative, says Lulu Wang, founder and CEO of Tupelo Capital Management and chair of the Global Advisory Board for the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for Global Business.
“This initiative is a way for us to reach out to our alumnae at all levels, of all generations, and to more literally and figuratively connect all of us to this powerful community of women. We have been a long-standing mainstay of the School, and as our collective value continues to grow, we hope to continue to add to the School’s luster and competitiveness,” she says.
The near-term objective of the initiative is to name the Board Room in Geffen Hall for all Columbia Business School women. The Board Room is the iconic home of the School’s celebrated leadership, and the naming will make clear that alumnae are an important part of that past as well as the future, says Segovia Spelbrink, executive director for major gifts.
The initiative itself is trailblazing, she adds. To the best of her knowledge, no other business school has focused on having spaces named by women and in honor of women in this way. All alumni and friends are invited to contribute to the $10 million goal—regardless of gender and giving level.
Costis Maglaras, dean of Columbia Business School and the David and Lyn Silfen Professor of Business, is enthusiastic about the initiative.
“When you walk around in our beautiful new buildings, you see the names of all sorts of people on the doors, the lecture theaters, the conference rooms. It would be great to recognize more women business leaders in this way,” Maglaras says. “Women make up more than 40 percent of our student body and hopefully in the not-so-distant future we’ll have parity. That should be represented in the naming opportunities in our buildings.
“We need to have women as role models for our students because we want to train the business leaders, board members, and CEOs of the future,” he adds. “We would like 50 percent of the CEOs to be women, rather than the 8 percent they are currently in the US. We want what we’re doing right now in our school to be a reflection of business leadership in the future.”
Value in Visibility
The initiative is a way for women to be more visible as philanthropists, says Ann Kaplan, a former partner with Goldman Sachs who is currently partner of Circle Wealth Management and chair of Circle Financial Group. “It showcases that women have a seat at the table and that they have economic power.”
“I think it sends a terrific message to current and future generations,” Lulu Wang adds. “They will understand that the women as well as the men of Columbia Business School built this campus and this school.”
Several alumnae have helped fund the Manhattanville campus. A gift from Kaplan is recognized with a classroom named in her honor in Henry R. Kravis Hall. In recognition of Lulu Wang’s gift, the alumni suite in David Geffen Hall and student lounge in Kravis Hall bear her name. A gift from Rebecca John, founder and president of Kintore Partners, is recognized in the name of Columbia Women in Business on the 4th Floor Quiet Study Lounge.
Shirley Wang, founder and CEO of Plastpro Inc., gifted The Link, which connects the school’s Geffen and Kravis buildings. The credibility and confidence that her degree gave her when she was a young woman entering male-dominated work situations was invaluable, Wang says.
“Many of our alumnae have gone on to great success and especially appreciate the early seat at the table that our Columbia Business School education conferred upon us. We know the women after us can be even more proud, as the community we are building through the Women’s Initiative will further advance women’s standing,” she says.
“When the School started fundraising for these two new buildings, it struck me that it would be a wonderful thing...to honor all the women of our community, past, current, and future.”
SHELLY LAZARUS ’70
Ming Hsu, principal of Alex & Wright Inc., whose gift is recognized with her name on the media suite, also remarks on the growing influence of a more powerful cohort of women at the Business School. “Our alumnae have a growing sense of community across the generations. We current alumnae can be proud to leave a legacy of achievement and leadership for Columbia Business School women in the future. Our imprimatur on the new campus is exciting testimony to this.”
Maria Chrin, founder and managing partner of Circle Wealth Management, has made a leadership gift toward the Board Room’s $10 million goal. “I’ve had the privilege of learning, training, and working alongside many members of this very special community,” Chrin says. “In particular, it’s been the female members who have enhanced my personal and professional growth, and have become a tremendous network of peers and beloved friends.”
Lise Strickler, co-founder of the Three Cairns Group and a member of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise Advisory Board, also has made a gift in support of the Board Room. The gift honors those who have come before her, especially her mother, Ellen B. Strickler ’78, as well as the generations who come after, including her three daughters. “As an entrepreneurial financial planner, my mother focused on helping women develop financial savvy and achieve their goals and dreams. I am thrilled to be able to continue her legacy of support and encouragement,” she says.
Tracey Travis is executive vice president and CFO of the Estée Lauder Companies, where 84 percent of the employee base is female and the consumers are predominantly women. She finds naming the Board Room in honor of the School’s women to be in sync with the future of business.
“Leaders across industries increasingly recognize the immense value of women in positions of influence. My hope is that by celebrating the accomplished women of the School with spaces named in their honor, we will send a steady signal of encouragement and aspiration to the women of Columbia Business School for generations to come,” says Travis, chair of the Business School Board’s Governance and Nominating Committee.
Kaplan says she hopes many more women, including students, join the group in contributing, at whatever level is comfortable for them.
“I view the contributions as investments,” Kaplan says. “They are investments in the future of the School and in the future of women being able to access the intellectual knowledge, the networking and connections, and the business skills that are available through Columbia Business School.”
Investing in Community
Investments in women’s future at the Business School don’t stop with naming opportunities. The School is also expanding the reach of the Women’s Circle, established in 2018 as a giving society to recognize female donors and build community among alumnae.
The organization, led by Christine Alemany ’04, recently undertook a strategic planning process that led to centering its activities around three pillars: entrepreneurship, career development, and sustainability.
“We’ve brought the Women’s Circle to a new stage—more accessible, inclusive, and informative,” says Dana Weeks ’03, who served on the strategic planning committee and is a founding member of the Circle. While events were previously limited to Women’s Circle members, programming will now be open to current students as well as all alumnae.
Women’s Circle goals include partnering with existing initiatives, such as the Career Management Center and the Women’s Business Leadership in Technology conference, to add value to career development and to cultivate women’s leadership in all industries.
“Entrepreneurship is so much at the core of what’s happening within the Business School. It aligns not only with the dean’s priorities, but gives us the ability to engage with current students and alumnae, many of whom, for many reasons, find their way to entrepreneurship,” says Weeks, co-founder and CEO of MedTrans Go.
Through its sustainability pillar, the group hopes to build a broad community of engaged alumnae donors, cultivate a deep bench of female leaders and advisors, and promote representation at the highest levels of alumni leadership.
“We’re in a recruitment phase, and the more we can involve women, the best of us will be brought out,” Weeks says.
The fundraising and awareness raised by the Manhattanville Women’s Initiative excites Catie Auran ’22 and Rachel Lieberberg ’22, who just finished their terms as co-presidents of Columbia Women in Business (CWiB).
“There’s a palpable sense of camaraderie that defines everything we do here at the Business School, which sustains a culture of ambitious, unpretentious, and deeply supportive women,” says Lieberberg.
“The Manhattanville Women’s Initiative dovetails with everything CWiB stands for,” Auran adds. “Our mission revolves around increasing representation and amplifying the voices of the extraordinary women in our community. To have women represented in the learning and community spaces in which we spend our days is pivotal.”
Naming the Board Room for all Columbia Business School women is especially meaningful to Lieberberg and Auran.
“This connects the School’s women past, present, and future in a beautiful way,” Auran says. “I hope it will continue to remind students of the power of this one-of-a-kind, lifelong network of female professionals.”
While efforts are underway to reach the $10 million goal to name the Board Room, it’s essential to remember what is at the heart of the Manhattanville Women’s Initiative, says Lulu Wang.
“Our most important gift is the celebration of women’s contributions to the School—from the very start, now, and into the future,” she says.
All community members—students, staff, faculty, alumni—are invited to participate in the Manhattanville Women’s Initiative at any level, whether $50 or $500,000 and beyond. Opportunities include class gifts, matching gifts, gifts of business interests, and multiyear pledges paid over five years.
To participate or learn more, contact Segovia Spelbrink, executive director for major gifts, [email protected].
To learn more about the Women’s Circle and other women’s initiatives, visit the Women’s Circle page on Columbia Business School’s Alumni website, or contact Charon Darris, executive director for individual giving, [email protected].