Green Mountain Coffee's Stiller Gifts $10 Million to Champlain College | Off Message

Green Mountain Coffee's Stiller Gifts $10 Million to Champlain College

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There was no giant check, but Champlain College announced the largest single donation in the school's 134-year history on Monday.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters founder Robert Stiller, through his Stiller Family Foundation, is sinking a cool $10 million into Champlain's business school, which will be renamed the Robert P. Stiller School of Business.

Stiller (pictured with Champlain President David Finney) wasn't there to announce the contribution in the packed lobby of the S.D. Ireland Family Center for Global Business and Technology. But he apparently will be on campus November 30 for a "major event" celebrating his largesse, Finney told reporters.

Champlain will collect the $10 million over the next five years. Of the total, $4 million will go to create two endowed business school chairs to help secure faculty with expertise in "positive psychology management theory" and "Appreciative Inquiry," a business strategy Stiller used in building GMCR from a Waitsfield coffee stand into a $3.5 billion company. Another $2 million will create an endowed fund to produce Appreciative Inquiry programs and training for Vermont companies and organizations. The remaining $4 million will fund capital investments, including a new Center for Communications and Creative Media.

Champlain's business school currently has around 500 undergraduate business majors, and Finney said the new money could push that to 600 students. Additionally, there are 123 MBA students at Champlain.

"The college has committed to the city that we will have only 2000 traditional undergraduates up here on the hill," Finney said. "So we're frankly not really expecting to increase enrollment. We think it will strengthen the identity of the school and we hope increase the impact of the school in the local economy."

Finney asked if any of the dozens of students attending the press conference had any questions. From a balcony, a female student called out, "Will this free up funds for other programs?" To which Finney responded, "No."

In 2011, Stiller made the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans, with a personal fortune worth $1.3 billion. But Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has had a turbulent couple of years, with dramatic swings in its stock price, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into its bookkeeping, and its patent on the single-serving K-cup brewers expiring.

In May, GMCR's board removed Stiller as chairman after a plunge in the company's stock price forced a "margin call" that obligated the founder to sell large chunks of his holdings in the company.

Asked to comment on those events, Champlain President Finney said Monday, "The company itself hasn't really had a bumpy ride at all. They've posted remarkable gains. You know, stock prices go up and stock prices go down. Our focus with respect to Green Mountain has been on the impact they have had on the community and on the state and this remarkable management technique that they have employed and helped foster their growth and success."

Prior to the gift by Stiller and his wife Christine, the largest single donation in Champlain's history was $3 million from the foundation of John and Mary Abele of Shelburne. John Abele co-founded Boston Scientific.

Bob and Holly Miller have donated more than $4 million to the college over the period of years — including the money to build Champlain's new Miller Center (home of the Emergent Media program) on Lakeside Avenue — and were on hand for Monday's announcement. Bob Miller said that while he doesn't know Bob Stiller well, Green Mountain Coffee has leased over 1 million square feet of space from his company, R.E.M. Development, including the 578,000-square-foot facility GMCR recently opened in Essex.

Asked what difference the Stillers' money will make at Champlain, Bob Miller said, "Obviously, it can't hurt. That's a large gift. Everybody's on a high here."

Photo courtesy of Champlain College

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