Real Estate Mogul Founds Own University

Real Estate Mogul Founds Own University

There have been some weird stories coming out of a tiny place in Canada about a university president trying to kick the shins of the Executive Chairman of a multi-billion dollar international real estate conglomerate.  Weird stories demand further investigation!

The smallest Canadian province, Prince Edward Island, has a quaint little university with just over 4,500 students.  The story goes that the University President tried to woo a multi-million dollar donation from Richard Homburg, the Executive Chairman of the Homburg Group of Companies.

No big news there.  As government funding to universities has declined, universities have become adept at raising funds from the private sector.  This particular deal didn’t happen. No big news there either, not all deals go ahead.

However, the real estate developer felt that educating people is a great thing, even if he didn’t like that particular deal with the university. Instead of donating his money to another university, he decided that he would prefer to do it himself and found his own university. 

Major corporations have been creating ‘corporate universities’ for their own internal training for decades.  There are now over 2,000 corporate universities and some of their campuses have state-of-the-art classrooms, sports and recreation facilities – and yes, multiple helicopter pads – that would be the envy of any public university. Companies know they can organize corporate education, and do it really well.

Companies also know that ‘academic freedom’ prevents companies from giving advice to the business school.  The attitude is “You can have your name on the door (for several million dollars), but don’t bring your ideas inside, we’ll decide what’s best”.  And just how many Business Schools are so flush from business success that they have several million of their own? 

Forty years ago, Richard Homburg started having innovative ideas, and today he still keeps his $ 4.5 billion empire ahead of the game with a keen sense of business and impeccable timing. So, Homburg launched something called the “Homburg Global Education Project”.  He assembled scholars from some of the best real estate schools around the world, and came up with something novel.

And this is where we find the surprise.  Instead of paying out to hang his name over the door of a little business school, Homburg’s Global Education project spans two continents, with an Academy in Zurich, an Institute in Canada, an eCampus for global education delivery, a research book series with Oxford University Press, and innovative Bachelor and Masters programs in Real Estate that are relevant to the business world, taught by some of the best professors and professionals from around the world. Wow.

The President of the little university obviously didn’t like this, and went all over the media saying how this would destroy the fabric of education and end the world as we know it.  He never came right out and said what he was most afraid of:  Richard Homburg showed the business world that they can do that too.  Let’s face it: starting new initiatives is what business people do. And if the business world starts their own alternatives to the traditional university, the universities’ tried and true way of getting millions from major corporations could be threatened. 

Let’s try the thought experiment: spend millions for a sign over a door, or invest in a global delivery system for industry-relevant Bachelor and Masters programs drawing from the best faculty in the world?  No business person would get that one wrong.

The lesson: don’t upset a thousand-year tradition of keeping a tight monopoly on university education and expect to keep it quiet.  Well, 2011 is the year that tradition has been upset.

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