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MSU grad: $30M gift 'came from my heart'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Edward Minskoff

Within two years of graduating from Michigan State University in 1962, Edward Minskoff offered a financial gift to his alma mater.

Still establishing himself in the business world at the time, he recalled recently, “whatever I gave was minuscule.” Then, admittedly, years passed before his next major contribution to the East Lansing school.

Flash-forward to the 21st century, and the New York-based real estate developer, now in his 70s, is considered one of the institution’s most prominent contributors. MSU recently announced the alum had given $30 million — the largest single gift ever from an individual donor in its 163-year history.

But for the contributor himself, the bequest is simply a matter of benevolence.

“When people have the luck and good fortune to be successful in life,” Minskoff said in an interview with The Detroit News, “there is a moral requirement, I think, for them to give back with the interest of helping others.”

His award, earmarked to help complete a pavilion at MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business slated to open in 2019, is earning more recognition for the businessman. On Oct. 19, he is expected to be honored during a university Empower Extraordinary Campaign donor recognition event, officials said. 

Mark Terman, executive director of principal gifts at MSU’s Office of University Advancement, says that only highlights a figure who could be considered the ultimate Spartan fan.

“He believes that his MSU education provided the firm foundation for the success he has realized in life,” said Terman, who has worked with Minskoff for more than a dozen years. 

Minskoff spent part of his youth splitting time between Metro Detroit and his father’s home in southern California.

His undergraduate years in East Lansing were formative, he said. “I think my education at Michigan State in the four years I spent there, and the people I met, had some significance in creating certain values for me and pushing me to the next level. I give the university credit for pointing me in the right direction, so to speak.”

After earning a degree in economics, Minskoff headed to the Big Apple.

He eventually became CEO and principal of the Olympia & York firm, overseeing acquisitions, new development, leasing and financial planning across North America, according to a Real Estate Board of New York biography. While there, he was responsible for 16 projects, including New York's World Financial Center, with an estimated development cost of $3.5 billion, the board said. 

Following a 1976 deal that resulted in a $350 million transaction involving eight Manhattan office buildings with 11 million square feet of space, Minskoff earned the group's Most Ingenious Deal of the Year Award.

From those lofty achievements, in 1987 he launched Edward J. Minskoff Equities Inc., which owns, develops and manages high-end office and residential properties as well as other real estate in urban centers. The firm has developed more than 40 million square feet of residential and office space in New York City’s Manhattan and nine other major cities. 

Reaching the pinnacle of his career, Minskoff — a married father of three children — strove to give back, including through MSU.

He and his wife, Julie, supported and named a gallery in MSU’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum as well as the largest laboratory in the Biomedical Physical Sciences Building, school officials said.

The art collector was an integral partner in the process that led to the construction of the museum and serves on its international board. In 2013, MSU presented him with its Philanthropist of the Year Award.

“His dedication of resources and time are extraordinary serving,” Terman said. That also meant sharing wisdom.

In 2009, receiving an honorary doctorate in business from the Broad College, Minskoff addressed MSU undergraduates during a commencement ceremony.

He insisted on playing a tune likely unfamiliar to many seated in the audience: Frank Sinatra's “High Hopes.”

Then, charged with delivering a motivational speech for young men and women facing a tough job market during a national economic downturn, the businessman relayed what has become his motto: “There’s nothing that’s impossible given the effort and if they’re motivated, then they can try to achieve whatever in life they set out for themselves to accomplish. It doesn’t always happen but It’s not going to happen without the effort.”

Minskoff, who also serves on boards for the NYU Cancer Institute board as well as other groups, stresses that those wishing to follow in his footsteps should “give back the same as I have.”

He traditionally does not publicize his philanthropy, but the two categories he values supporting most revolve around education and medicine. “Both of them are critically important in this world we live in,” he said.

That’s why Minskoff was open to talks about a potential gift for a new Broad building.

Terman remembers first approaching the developer, a diehard MSU sports fan, in spring 2015, during a visit to Charlotte, N.C., for the Spartans' NCAA tournament game.

Gathered at a sports bar, Terman told Minskoff about the fundraising goal for the building and mentioned he should have his name on whatever developed. “He did not say no and said he would think about it,” Terman said, adding that over more than three years, “I probably met with him 20 times and every time I talked about this gift he never said no.”

Interim MSU President John Engler helped finalize the gift, meeting with Terman and Minskoff in the final two visits before the commitment was made, Terman said. “Engler provided Edward a strong degree of confidence in the future of the university.”

Minskoff’s gift ensured the 100,000-square-foot Business Pavilion, bearing a $62 million price tag and part of the Empower Extraordinary capital campaign ending Dec. 31, is funded solely through donations, the university said.

“Edward Minskoff’s generosity to Michigan State, particularly to its museum and its college of business, is an inspiration,” said Eli Broad, a longtime friend and philanthropist. “I know his gift and his example will make a lasting positive impact on many classes of Spartans to come.”   

The gift coincides with more attention on large donations to higher education across the United States.

Charitable contributions to U.S. colleges and universities increased 6.3 percent in 2017, to $43.6 billion, according to the Voluntary Support of Education survey sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Gifts from alumni increased 14.5 percent, and gifts from non-alumni individuals grew 4.5 percent. 

In late September, MSU announced the council had given the school two 2018 Educational Fundraising Awards. For overall performance, it was among only four universities to be recognized within its classification of large public research/doctoral institutions with endowments valued at more than $350 million.

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish which came from individuals or groups, but “major gift fundraising generally is driven by relatively longstanding relationships with donors,” said David Bass, senior director of research of CASE

For years, public institutions have been eyeing ways to boost such pursuits, he added, and “they are now reaping the benefits of the relationships they have built with those donors.”

Minskoff is overjoyed to help spur others. “My hope is that this new business pavilion will attract graduate students and produce successful people that will be enablers to the university through their success in the future.”

Besides being recognized next month, the New Yorker still plans to attend the MSU-UM game Oct. 20 at Spartan Stadium.

He hesitates to discuss future philanthropy and freely admits if no one mentioned the pavilion gift, “it would be fine for me. I’m not looking for publicity. … It came from my heart and my willingness to help the university. No more, no less.”