May 02, 2008

Couple donates $1 million for business college fund

by Greg Scott

Gus and Debra Smith

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Gus Smith, a two-degree graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and his wife, Debra, pride themselves on making a long-term impact on entities with which they are associated. SIU Carbondale's College of Business and Administration is the most recent beneficiary of their generosity.

The couple has made a $1-million gift through the SIU Foundation to establish the Gus and Debra Smith Undergraduate Student Experience Endowment Fund in the college. The Smiths are working with University officials to target a variety of initiatives through this fund. Some options being discussed include establishing better communication with community college students, enhancing connection with prospective students serving in the military, and preparing students for their careers after college.

Smith, a retired managing partner of Accenture, a global management consulting firm with net revenues near $20 billion, says he is returning the favor to Southern. The McLeansboro, Ill., native was a community college student who served a stint in the Marine Corps before arriving at Southern, which, he says, laid the foundation for his success.

"The University helped open a lot of doors for me. It created opportunities for me to create a life for my family that has exceeded my expectations," he says. "Debra and I have always wanted to give back to something that helped us become successful. The more we got involved with Southern and saw what was going on here, we became comfortable that this is the place we wanted to do that."

The Smiths provided this support to the University through the SIU Foundation's charitable remainder trust option. Through this agreement, their gift is set up in a charitable trust. The Smiths will receive annual payments from the SIU Foundation and a tax deduction for the Foundation's remainder interest. When the trust matures, the College of Business will be the beneficiary of the remaining funds.

"We both like to establish plans for long-term gain. There is nothing wrong with receiving some benefit today, but we want the University to continue moving forward 10 years from now," Debra says. "The primary objective is for us to have resources in places that allow SIU students to walk out of here in a position to make the world a better place."

Gus adds: "One of our motivations in doing this is that we wanted to make a long-term impact as opposed to spreading pieces around. The charitable remainder trust is a great vehicle because it enables you to make a significant contribution currently while you can observe the benefit versus leaving the contribution in your estate."

Dennis Cradit, dean of the College of Business, says students will derive substantial benefit from the Smiths' generosity.

"Gus and Debra Smith have demonstrated a true commitment to excellence in education," Cradit says. "Through the Smiths' million-dollar gift, they are inspiring future generations of business leaders and creating untold opportunities for young people."

Rickey N. McCurry, vice chancellor for institutional advancement and chief executive officer of the SIU Foundation, says: "The Smiths have made a commitment that demonstrates their desire to assist SIU Carbondale in maintaining a standard of excellence for years to come. Their gift will provide invaluable resources allowing the University to attain this essential objective well into its future."

Gus Smith received a bachelor's degree in finance in 1977, and a master's in business administration in 1979. He was inducted into the College of Business Hall of Fame in 2004, and serves on the Dean's External Advisory Board.

Debra, a University of Illinois graduate, urged her husband to assume this role. "I was thrilled because he has so much to contribute," she says. "Once we started traveling to Carbondale for these annual meetings, I became quite impressed by the campus, faculty, management and overall friendliness. It was just a nice, down-home feeling."

In 2007, the Smiths were inducted as gold distinguished patrons in the Henry J. Rehn Society, created to recognize alumni and friends who make significant financial investments in the College of Business and Administration. The Society was founded in honor of the University's first business dean.

Smith was with Accenture for 24 years, 15 of which he was a partner in San Francisco. He says his SIU background assisted him in the corporate world.

"Graduate school really opened my eyes. It served as a foundation that provided me with a much better understanding of how to make business decisions and communicate with executives," he says. "My education went a long way in preparing me for the business world."

The Smiths are residents of Meadow Vista, Calif., and have a 20-year-old son, Spencer.