It was 2013 — 30 years after brothers Leonard Lauder W54 and Ronald Lauder W65 founded the Lauder Institute of Management & International Studies at Wharton — when the Institute launched its first-ever alumni fundraising campaign. The three-decade milestone felt like the perfect moment to engage with people who were both shaped by Lauder and had helped to shape Lauder, says Rene Kern G90 WG90, vice chairman of the Lauder board of governors. It was intended to be, he says, “a celebration on one hand, but also an opportunity to provide some really important funding for the Institute.” Thus the Lauder Challenge was born, with a generous $15 million matching gift from the Lauder family for $15 million raised by alumni. At its close in 2018, the campaign had raised $33 million, with participation from roughly half — yes, half — of all Lauder alumni.

Was the campaign team surprised by the turnout? Well … yes and no, Kern says. The Institute knew it would meet its goals, though it wasn’t a given that the level of participation would eclipse even the impressive response from the Wharton and Penn campaigns. Then again, he says, the Lauder alumni base is famously engaged. Kern understands this from personal experience: “Even today, some of my best friends are Lauder alumni. There’s just a special esprit de corps among the alumni.”

Indeed, the Lauder network has always been one of many selling points for students of the global business program. Another, Kern notes, is the recent physical transformation of its building. Funded by the Lauders, a modernizing renovation included all four floors, the lobby, and event and dining spaces. The curriculum was also remade, including a new Africa program that launched in 2016 (the first of its kind in the world), while the Institute expanded its cultural experiential opportunities with new Lauder Intercultural Ventures and Leadership Immersion internships.

In addition to noting new professorships, new courses, and top business minds brought on as Senior Global Fellows (Mohamed A. El-Erian, for example, and Berkeley Haas dean Ann E. Harrison for another), Kern points to the raft of new fellowships created to help defray the cost of tuition and Lauder experiences. Now, he says, there’s more access for talented students from around the world at a time when Lauder’s mission is “even more relevant.”

“It’s been so gratifying to watch the Institute and its impact evolve over the years,” Ronald Lauder says. “My brother Leonard and I always knew that the future of business was international, but the importance of what we’re doing here — educating global leaders in culture, language, politics, and business — has never been more apparent.” The success of the Challenge, along with the vision of Martine Haas, the Institute’s director and Lauder Chair professor, has Ronald Lauder excited for the future: “Our family is thrilled to see how many different avenues toward leadership our students can take today. This is exactly what we envisioned nearly 40 years ago, and I think the next 40 will be even more amazing.”


Published as “A Challenge Met” in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of  Wharton Magazine.