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TRANSFORMATION

Bob and Laura Reynolds make $10 million donation, largest in B&E history

Written by Patrick Gregg | Photographed by Alex Wilson

In 1970, a young man from Clarksburg, West Virginia, walked onto the campus of West Virginia University for his freshman year. By the time he graduated in 1974 when he had earned a finance degree from the College of Business and Economics at the University he loved so much, Robert L. “Bob” Reynolds had been transformed into a person who would become one of the most prominent business figures in modern times.

Now, fast-forward to February 10, 2017. Reynolds is president and CEO of three multinational companies: Putnam Investments, Great-West Financial and Great-West Lifeco U.S., Inc. He is rightfully credited with having pioneered the way retirement accounts are designed in the modern-day era.

That February day, this Clarksburg native and his wife Laura — who both have a history of giving back and paying it forward in West Virginia as well as in the Boston and Palm Beach, Florida, areas where they live — announced a gift of $10 million to B&E. The gift provided initial funding for a building in their names at a new business school complex on Morgantown’s waterfront, and will help build other academic components of business education at WVU’s business school. The new complex will be located on the site of the current Stansbury Hall, giving the school room to operate and grow while pumping new life into the waterfront, providing a new and better platform for learning and life experiences, and building an amplified connectivity between the business school and the state of West Virginia, the nation and the world.

Bob and Laura Reynolds

That’s the thing about transformation. It can fuel the fire within a person, and the most successful leaders never forget what helped them become the people they are today.

“I grew up in a great town, Clarksburg, West Virginia, which I loved,” Reynolds said. “But WVU opened whole new worlds for me — different ways of thinking, different types of people. You can’t help but broaden — and deepen — yourself in that kind of environment at a time in your life when you’re already moving from adolescence to adulthood. My hope for the business school is that it will help students build on that and open their minds to the wider world so they can compete — and win — against anybody. Seeing the dedication of Gordon Gee and the hiring of people the caliber of (B&E Milan Puskar Dean) Javier Reyes gives me every confidence that B&E will keep transforming itself for the better and enable its students to do the same.”

Reynolds’ success is a reflection of his being a student of life, ranging from what he learned in the classroom to what he has learned by doing. And that makes him a perfect example of the shared WVU and B&E philosophy of a heightened student experience.

“Being a student at West Virginia University offered me a host of opportunities to grow — in terms of education and book knowledge — and so much more than that. I saw new horizons of ideas and values and my teachers fired up what’s really been a life-long hunger for knowledge,” said Reynolds. “But classroom learning was just part of a well-rounded education. I learned just as much from social life on campus, from the friendships forged at my fraternity, and from the discussions I had — sometimes heated — with fellow students and faculty. All of those learnings have stayed with me ever since.”

Like Bob’s time on the WVU campus, Bob and Laura Reynolds wanted their gift to be impactful and evolutionary. Transformational, indeed.

Transformation of a Business School

“About five years ago, we began talking with folks at the College of Business and Economics and the WVU Foundation about B&E’s vision for the future — and how we might be a part of that,” Reynolds said. “Now we’ve come together on a vibrant plan for a new business school building and other amenities that will revitalize and transform Morgantown’s waterfront. This is a plan we’re proud to support.”

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While official architectual renderings are forthcoming, this conceptual drawing shows where the new B&E building will be located.

“We feel highly confident about investing in the future that President Gee and Dean Reyes are building here,” said Laura Reynolds, “and we’re excited to be part of this new and transformational initiative for business education. There’s a real joy in contributing to an institution that’s helping so many students develop into lifelong achievers. And it’s wonderful to know that the business school will help Morgantown blossom as a city, a community and a place where people want to live. What’s more, through marriage to Bob, I’ve actually become ‘almost’ a West Virginian myself, and I am proud to help my new home state grow and prosper.”

Gee said the commitment to, and importance of, B&E to the University and what the new school would do for the campus must be unwavering. “I am a firm believer that you cannot have a great university without a great business school,” said Gee. “This complex will not only be transformational in what it provides West Virginia University from an academic perspective, but it will also recast a portion of Morgantown’s waterfront into a hub of business activity.”

Reyes emphasized that the philanthropy of Bob and Laura Reynolds is already injecting new levels of thinking for the B&E student experience, as evidenced by a project that was in the works at the time of the $10 million gift announcement. Unsurprisingly, the couple was directly involved in a special project, along with several other generous B&E alumni.

Reynolds Gift Celebration
On February 10, 2017, Bob and Laura Reynolds announced their $10 million gift to help build a new B&E building on Morgantown's waterfront.

“B&E finance chairperson Dr. Naomi Boyd had been working on a student-managed investment fund with alumnus Fred Tattersall, who has also exhibited incredible generosity,” Reyes said. “Fred contacted nine other people to contribute to this fund so that it would be possible for students to participate in an invaluable experience of managing investment funds. The Reynolds’ were among the people who contributed to the fund, and the end result was a planned group trip to New York City for a student investment conference. The trip also allowed Dr. Boyd to contact another of our generous alumni, Penni Roll, who arranged a surprise for our group of students — that they would be able to get onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. This was truly an unbelievable student experience, and Bob and Laura Reynolds had an active hand in making that possible.”

Their vision for the gift is empowering to the business school, as programmatic changes and improvements are in the works and will be in existence long before a ribbon is cut on the new complex. And the couple adamantly backs improved student support systems, new learning environments and a vastly infused “live and learn” community.

“I would never underestimate the value of book-learning and theory,” Reynolds said, “but there is something very powerful about the experience of taking theory and then seeing it put into practice, and trying to execute business strategies yourself. Hands-on experience with real businesses and business leaders — in real life, in real time — is invaluable. My vision is that B&E will pioneer in developing ways to enable its students to test what they learn in class against what works in the real world of customers, employees and competitors. That’s ultimately the final exam we all face after graduation. Getting a taste of it while you’re still a student is vital.”

Paying it Forward

Philanthropy can be difficult to get your arms around, but the generosity of Bob and Laura Reynolds is not complex at all. Actually, it’s a joy.

“It’s simple, really. What I learned at WVU — in class and beyond class — equipped me to enter the business world with a high degree of confidence,” Reynolds said. “Then a lot of hard work — and a fair amount of luck — enabled me to succeed in that world. So I want other young people to have the same or better chances than I had to make something of their lives. And that’s not just about money. It means actually doing something to help others. I believe that’s how a person should grow: in widening circles, first taking care of themselves and their families, and then broadening their vision to help others do the same. It is very satisfying to be able to plant the seeds for other people’s success. I am delighted to help the young people of the greatest state in this country. That’s what ‘paying it forward’ means to me.”

Joyce McConnell, Cindi Roth, President Gordon Gee, Bob and Laura Reynolds and Javier Reyes
WVU provost Joyce McConnell, WVU Foundation President Cindi Roth, WVU President Gordon Gee, Bob Reynolds, Laura Reynolds and WVU B&E dean Javier Reyes.

“Like Bob, I believe people should make the most of their opportunities and take care of themselves and their families first,” said Laura. “But if and when you succeed beyond your early dreams, then it is time to reach out and help others get a better chance in life. Once you start doing that, you discover that it’s actually easy — and habit-forming. The act of giving is actually a gift in itself — to the giver. We’re blessed to be able to help the communities we live in and love. So ‘paying it forward’ is not some onerous obligation. It’s a source of joy.”

While there is no doubt Bob’s heart is embedded in his alma mater, the couple has been philanthropic at WVU, as well as in Boston and Palm Beach, Florida, where they are residents. Their determination to help WVU’s business school is undeniable, and part of that resolve entailed Bob calling upon fellow donors to contribute whatever they can to fund the remaining estimated two-thirds needed for the complex.

“It all starts with facilities where students learn by doing, in a new ‘ecosystem’ that links business and education, theory and practice,” he said. “But pursuing these opportunities calls for investment, not only in time but money. At a time when State support is declining, we need private support more than ever. And WVU has earned that support.

“I have said it many times before, and I’ll say it again. Whatever success I’ve had in my life and career began right here, in the four years I spent as a student at West Virginia University. I love this place. That’s why Laura and I are so happy to be able to give something back, because we deeply care for this University, this state and its people. May all other alumni and friends join us.”

Laura pointed to the leadership at WVU and how its vision for B&E has immediately impacted students. That vision, she said, prompts people to want to get involved.

“There’s an old saying that you can know somebody by the company they keep,” she said. “For Bob and for me, keeping company with President Gee and Dean Reyes is an honor. We are proud to be partners with great people like them. That’s what it’s like to be part of all this.”