Chicago Booth Alumni Generously Support Fight Against COVID-19
Despite the upheaval of a global pandemic, many Chicago Booth alumni have thought beyond themselves and given back to their communities. The following are examples of four alumni who have demonstrated tremendous generosity to the causes that most touch their hearts. Richard Friedman, ’81, learned from his son, a doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital, how difficult it was to see so much death and despair every day, so he supports front line workers across the country. Merlin Lu,’16, watched the panic as residents fled the familiar streets of his home town of Wuhan and immediately started thinking about how he could help hospitals there. With their background in research, Rex, ’72, and Jeanne Sinquefield, PhD, ’72, MBA ’79 felt it important to provide COVID-19 research funding to St. Louis University, in their beloved hometown. Read their stories below.
The Mount Sinai Health System in Manhattan has faced many challenges in the 20 years Rich Friedman, ’81, has been on the board of trustees. But none had the kind of impact as that of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had no idea COVID-19 was going to be part of the job when I agreed to be co-chair last year,” said Friedman, a partner and chairman of the Merchant Banking Division at Goldman Sachs, where he has worked for 39 years. “Mount Sinai has been at the epicenter of the epicenter and this has become a crusade for me since early March.”
Early in the struggle, Mount Sinai didn’t have enough of the N95 protective masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) so vital to healthcare workers in their fight against the virus. Friedman, using his NetJets relationships and his network in China, sourced PPE and was able to fly masks, face shields, and goggles from China to New York. Friedman made donations of his time and money to Mount Sinai, including a $2.5 million contribution to the hospital’s COVID Relief Fund. But he wanted to do more for hospital employees.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, my North Star has been the health and wellbeing of our frontliners,” Friedman said. “I feel that I may be more passionate about this than others, since my son, Josh, was a fourth-year resident in neurology at Mount Sinai. But when he told me how many patients he has seen die, in 10 weeks it’s been more than 2,100 deaths across the eight hospitals, that really hit me hard. The extreme trauma has taken its toll on the team.”
To help frontline workers with mental health services, child care, and other living expenses, Friedman launched a national event, #FitForTheFrontLine. While originally conceived as an event for the Mount Sinai Health System, it quickly expanded to include a lead group of 26 academic medical centers throughout the country—with Friedman making one of his first calls to President Robert Zimmer to solicit the participation of the University of Chicago School of Medicine.
#FitForTheFrontLine was a national fitness challenge that was held May 26—June 14. Participants chose any athletic activity, (walking, running, swimming, bicycling, or lifting weights) and solicited pledges from friends, colleagues, and family to donate to a hospital of their choice. Friedman, a former college basketball player at Brown University, shot 1,000 free throws in the two weeks with his donation based on the number of shots he made. His goal was to raise $500,000 by making at least 80 percent of his attempts.
Given the uniqueness of the campaign, Friedman couldn’t predict how much would be raised overall, but believes the campaign served as a well-deserved tribute, with the funds making a difference to frontline healthcare workers across the country.
Friedman has also been generous to the University of Chicago since graduating in 1981. Throughout the years, his gifts have supported Booth students with scholarships and key priorities such as Chicago Booth’s London campus and the Rubenstein Forum in Hyde Park.
“There’s no doubt that graduating from Chicago Booth and going on to Goldman Sachs ignited my career,” Friedman said. “So my education and continuing relationships at Booth have been important to what I’m doing at Sinai. I’ve talked to dean Madhav Rajan at Booth and president Zimmer, and it’s been interesting to share ideas about planning for the fall.”
While the number of patients treated at the hospital system has declined dramatically, Friedman knows the battle with COVID is far from over.
“In business and life, you run into situations that are hard to predict,” he said. “I would have never imagined, in my wildest scenario, that I would be doing something like this. It’s been inspiring to watch the leadership at the hospital system, hospital employees, and the response from the community, come together to manage through this traumatic experience. I am fortunate to be in a position to be able to make a contribution that makes a difference.”
For entrepreneur Merlin Lu, ’16 (AXP-15), the site of the coronavirus outbreak had a special significance. Born, raised, and educated in Wuhan, China, Lu still has relatives in the city and deep feelings about his hometown.
“I was in Hong Kong watching the news of the rapid increase in newly confirmed cases in Wuhan every day,” Lu said. “I saw the roads, stations, and communities that were once so familiar to me get closed and locked down. I learned that the doctors and nurses in hospitals were in a very dire and dangerous situation with huge shortages of protective and prevention materials, yet they were still fighting the coronavirus day and night to protect our health and safety. I was very affected personally as an entrepreneur, and my sense of social responsibility prompted me to take action.”
Lu donated more than $700,000 in cash and antibacterial products to the hospitals in Wuhan. Dettol, the brand Lu distributes, has a factory in Jingzhou Hubei, about 60 miles from Wuhan. Dettol also made a donation of $7 million in cash and antibacterial products to healthcare institutions and medical workers across the country.
With the explosive demand for Dettol hand sanitizers and antiseptic liquid, the company faced challenges on both the production and transportation sides.
“We were lacking employees, vehicle resources, and drivers—and what made things even worse was fear of transmission of the virus,” he said. “Every city and region placed very strict transport restrictions and bans on vehicles from the Hubei province, and we had to submit all the required documents and papers to the traffic department officials in each city and region so they would allow our trucks to go through. While the factory kept running 24 hours a day, the capacity of production could only meet half the sales orders due to their lack of manpower and raw materials, so we had to set purchase limits.”
Lu founded RB & Manon Business Co., Ltd. in 1999 and established a joint venture in 2011 with UK-based Reckitt Benckiser (RB), one of the world's largest producers of household cleaning and personal care consumer goods. Headquartered in Shanghai, China, it has three branches in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Beijing, with more than 100 offices nationwide and more than 1,800 employees.
Although he already had advanced degrees from several universities, after partnering with RB, Lu said he realized he needed a more international vision and wider perspective to advance and promote his company. The opening of a Chicago Booth campus in Hong Kong in 2014 made it convenient to take classes and since that time, he has generously supported the school.
“I had a wonderful time, learned a lot, and knew it was the right choice,” Lu said. “What I found special about Booth is that I can have more systematic and comprehensive knowledge on all aspects of businesses. The school gives students a deeper probe into the essence of business, and the professors are very diversified and rigorous, really impressive. Booth has taught me the essence, the inner logic of many things, that formed the foundation of my understanding of business and offered great inspiration in my decision-making.”
Although progress of the disease has slowed, Hubei and Hong Kong are still facing many challenges.
“I love Hong Kong and China,” he said. “And I wish that Hong Kong can return to its vitality and prosperous stable situation very soon, and I wish China is on the way to become more advanced. COVID-19 affected the transportation of goods and people to a large extent and I hope it will end soon.”
Since their earliest days as students at the University of Chicago, Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield have long had an interest in research. Jeanne Sinquefield, PhD, ’72, MBA ’79, was an assistant professor from 1972-1976 in the school’s sociology department. Now, in the middle of the COVID pandemic, the Sinquefield Center for Research, Inc. has donated $765,000 to Saint Louis University to support several innovations in COVID-19-related research along with critical, specialized equipment.
“Research has been core to our pursuits since graduating from Chicago, through scholarly publications and philanthropy,” Jeanne said. “As alumni, our support to the university has been across several departments, including the Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield Visiting Researchers Fund at the Becker Friedman Institute and, through Dimensional, the Center for Research on Securities Pricing.”
Jeanne oversaw Dimensional’s trading department and served as executive vice president until her retirement in 2005. Since retiring to Missouri, the couple’s philanthropy has focused on making their home state a mecca for music composition and advancing state economic policies. In recognition of their efforts, they recently received two awards, the 2019 Missouri Arts Council Award for Philanthropy and the 2019 Art Laffer Award for Economic Excellence in Finance from the American Legislative Exchange Council. The couple has also funded the creation and expansion of the Saint Louis Chess Club and the World Chess Hall of Fame, which together form the Saint Louis Chess Campus. The activities of the two organizations led the US Senate to declare Saint Louis the Chess Capital of the United States in 2014.
Her husband, Rex Sinquefield, ’72, who cofounded Dimensional Fund Advisors in 1981 with David Booth, ’71, was especially influenced by two of his professors, Nobel laureates Merton Miller and Eugene F. Fama, MBA ’64, PhD ’64.
“They’d done a lot for the field of finance, and I, of course, benefited from them enormously. My whole career was influenced by what they did. None of what I did would have happened without that education—without being at Chicago at exactly the right time,” Rex said.
The recent donation supports rapid COVID-19 research, which engages more than 40 members of the faculty across 20 departments, including the SLU Center for Vaccine Development, which is among nine Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Units working to find a COVID-19 vaccine, public health research, geospatial research, and emergency preparedness.
“St. Louis University's researchers and faculty work together with one shared goal, to conduct and advance cutting-edge research that will best serve the community,” said Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield.
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