Philanthropist Gives GSM $30 Million

UC Irvine received its largest individual donation in its history last week with a $30 million contribution to the Graduate School of Management from 61-year-old Newport Beach businessman Paul Merage.
The school will be renamed the Paul Merage School of Business in his honor. An amount of $17.5 million will be given upfront, while the remaining $12.5 million is scheduled to be given to UCI after the death of Merage and his wife, Lilly.
‘The gift will support the creation of endowed chairs who will facilitate the school’s ongoing recruitment of top faculty, provide fellowships to support the recruitment and retention of top graduate students from around the country, and initiate innovative research centered around business growth,’ said Andrew Policano, dean of the School of Business.
According to the school, of the first $17.5 million, $8.5 million will be used to create five new professorships, $4.5 million will be awarded as student fellowships, $1.5 million will be set aside for research and the remaining $3 million will be used at Policano’s discretion.
‘These financial resources are critical to our future emergence among the truly distinguished schools in the country,’ Policano said. ‘The theme of the Paul Merage School of Business will be sustaining profitable business growth in the emerging innovation economy. This approach will permeate all of our activities.’
In an effort to promote the School of Business’ efforts to boost national rankings into the top 25, Merage hopes to cultivate a spirit of originality and change to the school’s growing campus.
‘UCI already has an excellent business school … with tremendous faculty [and] outstanding students,’ Merage said. ‘It is also still a very new and young institution and as such is not bound by all the traditions that prevent business schools from creating and embracing new ways of thinking and innovation. I am impressed that within a very short [one year] period of time the entire school embraced this idea of business-growth focus in its curriculum.’
Merage decided to give the money to UCI because he feels it is one of the most ambitious of the UC campuses. It is also centered in an encouraging business community where it has the opportunity to become ‘a vital ally of the business community in Orange County.’
‘If my optimism is converted into reality, Orange County will find the business school to be an increasingly important asset,’ Merage said. ‘UCI is going to be able to provide businesses with graduates who are the best equipped of any graduates from business schools in the country. They will understand what it takes to grow a company and they will have the tools to help businesses grow their companies.’
Merage came to America from Iran to attend college at the age of 16. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Berkeley. He became known in the business community in the late 1970s when he founded Chef America, Inc. with his younger brother David, taking out two mortgages on his house and borrowing money from their parents.
Capitalizing on the observation that women were working and spending less time in the kitchen, Merage invented the popular Hot Pockets microwavable snacks. He made Forbes’ list of the 400 richest Americans in 2002 before selling Chef America to Nestle for $2.6 billion.
Merage’s donation exceeds UCI’s previous record for a private gift by $10 million. Separate $20 million donations were given to UCI by Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren and Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli.
In a UCI news release, Chancellor Ralph Cicerone expressed his gratitude for the multimillion-dollar donation.
‘This is an extraordinary gift, and we cannot express deeply enough our appreciation for Paul Merage’s great generosity,’ Cicerone said.