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Apollo founder gives Wharton $50 million, school’s biggest gift

The business school says it will hire distinguished professors.

Marc Rowan, cofounder of Apollo Management Group, a private equity and real estate firm that counts Pennsylvania pension funds as clients, donated $50 million to the Wharton School fundraising program he co-heads on Oct. 2, 2018
Marc Rowan, cofounder of Apollo Management Group, a private equity and real estate firm that counts Pennsylvania pension funds as clients, donated $50 million to the Wharton School fundraising program he co-heads on Oct. 2, 2018Read moreWharton

Marc J. Rowan, who cofounded $250 billion private equity and real estate investment group Apollo Global Management and chairs Wharton's Board of Overseers, and his wife, Carolyn, have given his alma mater $50 million for professors and programs.

The school said the gift is its largest since Wharton opened in 1881. Apollo, whose clients include the Pennsylvania state workers' and public schoolteachers' pension systems, was founded in 1990 by Leon Black, a former investment banker at Philadelphia-based Drexel Burnham Lambert, and a team including Rowan, who is a double Wharton School graduate (bachelor of science '84, MBA '85), and fellow Wharton undergrad alumnus Josh Harris, now known as the lead owner of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers.

Wharton, the business school of the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement that it will use the money to hire three Rowan Distinguished Professors, "global leaders" who will "build bridges between academia and business," plus additional five-year Rowan Fellows, "as the battle for academic firepower rages on."

The money will also help pay for the Penn Wharton Budget Model, a project to measure and publish "evidence-based" assessments of government taxes, programs, and proposals. The budget center was developed by Wharton professor Kent Smetters, a former U.S. Treasury policy official under President George W. Bush. Rowan's fellow donors to the model include Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer and former Radian CEO S.A. Ibrahim, among others.

Wharton is using the grant to boost its "More Than Ever" fund-raising campaign goal, which Rowan helps lead, to $1 billion, from its previous goal of $850 million.

Wharton's goal of $1 billion in fund-raising is part of a larger $4 billion capital campaign for the university. Other schools at the university have smaller fund-raising goals, such as the School of Social Policy & Practice, with a goal of $38 million.

Amy Gutmann, Penn's president, declared "profound gratitude to Marc and Carolyn Rowan."

Geoffrey Garrett, Wharton's dean, called the Rowan grant "the cornerstone of a campaign" that will help Wharton "create leaders who will change the world."

Penn says the gift isn't the Rowans' first. They had previously backed student financial aid programs as well as projects at Wharton, Penn's Institute for Contemporary Art, Penn Medicine, and the Penn football program.

Apollo is one of the largest U.S. private investment groups. The company has a history of buying private companies, including Chuck E. Cheese, the University of Phoenix, and alarm giant ADT, cutting costs, and reselling them at a profit.

Private investment funds including Apollo, offering proprietary investment strategies in a variety of assets, have attracted billions from big investors concerned about public stock and bond returns. Successful funds such as  Apollo's, besides boosting client returns, have enriched their operators, who are paid set fees plus a portion of profits that are typically taxed not as income but at capital-gains rates, enabling them to richly endow favored philanthropies.

The fee arrangements have been questioned by public officials including Gov. Wolf and Pennsylvania State Treasurer Joe Torsella. Pension fund managers and trustees have continued to boost investments in new Apollo funds, which they say deliver useful returns over time.

The Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) has committed $845 million to Apollo funds in the last six years, said spokesperson Evelyn Williams. The State Employees' Retirement System (PennSERS) invested $300 million. PSERS paid Apollo $5.4 million in management fees last year and about $8 million the year before. In addition, Apollo was allowed to keep part of the profits from the investments. PSERS plans to post the shared profits Apollo and other firms kept, at its board meeting later this month.