VANCOUVER SUN-Simon Fraser University alumnus Lance Uggla, CEO of the London, England,-based financial data giant IHS Markit, has gifted $34.1 million to his alma mater, the largest private donation in the school’s history, to establish a perpetual scholarship fund that will support 10 new undergraduate students every year.
The Uggla Family Scholarship’s first 10 students will carry out their studies in SFU’s Beedie School of Business or the Faculty of Applied Sciences starting in 2021, but the program will expand to other faculties in future.
“He is going to be involved in the process, he’s not just going to write the cheque. He wants to meet these young scholars … and mentor them if he can. That kind of commitment is just really quite remarkable. And he’s involving his family (three daughters and a son) in this as well, which is incredible,” said SFU president Joy Johnson.
The scholarship will cover all the students’ needs — tuition, fees, books, housing and expenses — as well as fund a comprehensive leadership program.
“The scholarship can be a real game-changer. I want these kids to have the same benefits that any of my own children would have going to university. I want them to get the best education they can and they’ll hopefully go back and change things in their community,” Uggla said.
The idea for the Uggla Family Scholarship was cooked up more than a year ago when the Burnaby-born Uggla attended his first U.S. Thanksgiving dinner at the New York home of Wall Street investment banker Richard Handler. Along with the helpings of turkey and stuffing as expected, Uggla was also served a side of life-changing philanthropic inspiration.
“When we arrived at Richard’s house there was a big bus outside … and there were 40 kids in the house. They were all university kids, different genders and ethnic backgrounds, and they were all over his house. There were sleeping bags piled up, there were air mattresses down the hallway,” Uggla recalls.
The students were all Handler Scholars. Not only were they receiving a free education at the University of Rochester, thanks to the US$25 million that Handler donated to his alma mater in 2007, but they were also invited to the Handler family home for the holidays.
“They were like his own kids. Whenever he did something with his family, they were going to be part of it because they were part of the family,” Uggla said. “I was so inspired by that. When I came back, I figured out what my philanthropy was going to be”
The Uggla Family Scholarship will go toward students with strong academic and leadership potential, and will specifically target those from “equity-deserving groups,” including those living with a disability, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community and those who identify as Indigenous, Black or a person-of-colour.
Uggla says he has become more socially aware in the last few years, thanks to the women’s #METOO movement and the racial-justice protests in reaction to police-related killings of people-of-colour.
“Especially after the murder of George Floyd, I think a lot of leaders in business found out that you have to do something more than just check boxes. I thought to myself, ‘Am I doing enough?’ … because I can make a difference,” he said. “I want to make sure that with these scholarships that we’re always thinking about diversity in the right ways.”
The Uggla family is also committing $40 million for a similar initiative at the London School of Economics, where Uggla earned his master’s degree, and is supporting the university education of graduates from the Shitima School in Zambia.
Uggla will soon have some free time on his hands to nurture his newly found scholarship. Last week, it was announced that IHS Markit was being bought by business data competitor S&P Global for US$44 billion . He’s expected to stay on with the merged company as an adviser for a year after the sale is complete — it’s expected to close in the second half of 2021 — but he will no longer have a day-to-day role in the firm he founded in 2003.
Already extremely wealthy (he’s worth more than US$1 billion, according to The Financial Times ), Uggla will be unfathomably rich once the sale is done.
— With files from Reuters