Erb family gives U-M $10 million to develop ecologically and socially responsible business

April 20, 2005

ANN ARBOR—Fred and Barbara Erb have provided a $10 million gift to significantly enhance the research and education initiatives of the University of Michigan’s Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise. The program is a partnership between the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

The $10 million gift builds upon two earlier gifts of $5 million each from the Erbs, representing the largest known commitment to a university for interdisciplinary teaching and research in the area of global sustainable enterprise. This field explores how organizations throughout the world can achieve long-term success by harmonizing economic, environmental and social interests.

Fred and Barbara Erb of Birmingham, Mich. and Naples, Fla., were born and raised in the Detroit area. Fred earned his BBA degree with honors from the University of Michigan in 1947, and promptly bought into his uncle’s small lumber and coal business. When sold in 1993, the Erb Lumber Company was a 45-location, diversified business with $300 million in annual sales. His current businesses include Edgemere Enterprises, a real estate management company in Birmingham. Barbara’s past community service has included board membership for The Music Hall of Detroit and the Michigan Art Train, and membership of the Women’s Committee of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and the local chapter of the National Farm and Garden Club.

The new gift from the Erbs advances the University’s $2.5 billion The Michigan Difference campaign, and makes it possible to greatly increase the size of the Erb Institute MBA/MS Program. Already the largest of its kind with 48 students, the program will grow to 75 students who simultaneously earn master’s degrees from the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ross School of Business. The curriculum includes such offerings as Systems Thinking for Sustainable Enterprise, Competitive Environmental Strategy, Business Practices of Human Rights, Sustainable Manufacturing and Social Institutions for Energy Production.

Commenting on the vision motivating their gift, Barbara Erb said, “We want to create a new generation of leaders who will consider the big picture of our world and who have the protection of the environment as a primary part of their thinking and planning.”

Fred Erb added, “If we can raise the next generation of business leaders to think about environmental protection as an essential long-term investment—and not a cost to be avoided—we will have taken a major step forward.”

The integrated three-year MBA/MS Program has produced more than 80 graduates to date who work within the business, nonprofit and government sectors. These leaders focus on a wide range of issues including clean technologies, conservation of biodiversity, corporate responsibility, renewable energy, green design, and human rights. Program graduates continually draw upon their interdisciplinary training to inspire, develop and implement innovative and practicable methods for cultivating a sustainable future.

The new gift will also allow the Institute to dramatically expand its efforts in the area of research. U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said, “This generous new gift will allow the institute to fund PhD students, post-doctoral fellows and important research collaborations with faculty in such diverse areas as business, environmental science, engineering, public health and public policy, to discover and disseminate the leading-edge research required to address the complex issues that matter so much to the health of our planet.”

Robert Dolan, dean of the Ross School of Business, described how the Erbs’ extraordinary vision and generosity has had the important effect of attracting additional Institute supporters. “Thanks in large part to earlier gifts provided by Fred and Barbara Erb, we have accomplished the remarkable feat of securing funding for three endowed professorships with joint appointments in our schools of environment and business. The Max McGraw, Holcim and Dow Chemical Professorships have allowed us to attract and hire three of the world’s most talented academics in the area of global sustainable enterprise, and these faculty members are currently conducting research on such important issues as clean energy alternatives, human mobility in densely populated cities, and business strategies for addressing global climate change.”

Rosina Bierbaum, dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment, added, “Fred and Barbara Erb had tremendous foresight nearly a decade ago, when they established this Institute to create and spread knowledge that both protects our natural world and facilitates human prosperity. The complexity involved in addressing these immense challenges necessitates that strong interdisciplinary partnerships be built and nourished. At Michigan, our schools of environment and business are committed to this partnership and to seeing that the Erbs’ grand vision is realized through the work of the Institute.”

Professor Thomas Gladwin, director of the Erb Institute, believes the new gift will greatly increase the impact of the Institute’s research, educational and outreach activities. “We now have the resources needed to take the Institute to a higher level, which will allow us to discover and share profound new knowledge that will shape the future for the better,” Gladwin said. “To develop this new knowledge, we will continue our tradition of working closely with a wide range of relevant organizations. Building strong partnerships with the business, nonprofit and government sectors ensures that the work of the Erb Institute continually provides the greatest possible value to our students, partners and the broader public.”

Steve Percy, the retired CEO of BP America and a member of the Erb Institute External Advisory Board, believes that the institute is positioned to play a preeminent role in helping corporations craft winning strategies. “Leading global corporations are facing rapidly changing public policy, consumer preferences, stakeholder expectations, and most importantly competitor strategies in response to concerns about ecological systems and human well-being. They know that to succeed they need the very best knowledge and talent for integrating these wider concerns, and no institution is better placed than the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise to provide the intellectual power they are seeking.”


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