By Elizabeth Hise Brennan
When David Farr, CEO of St. Louis-based Emerson Electric Co., visited Fontbonne University, it was a two-fold cause for celebration.
Farr gave a thoughtful and insightful presentation to a packed room of Fontbonne students, faculty, staff and guests as part of the university’s Building Global Relationships speaker series. Farr’s visit also gave the campus community the opportunity to thank the business leader and his company for a generous gift — a $235,000 grant marked specifically for enhancing and upgrading Fontbonne’s technology systems. The gift will provide system stability, educational opportunities and peace of mind for the university and its students for years to come.
“Emerson is well known for its commitment to educational institutions in the St. Louis area, and the company has been a past donor to Fontbonne,” said Mark Franz, Fontbonne’s vice president for information technology. “In recent conversations with corporate personnel at Emerson, we made them aware of strategic needs of the institution, which were consistent with their interests. Some specific products that Emerson has developed and perfected were implemented as key elements in solving the issues we were facing.”
Through the grant, Fontbonne purchased products and installation services that will provide the university’s central computer servers with a new system for reliable and consistent power. These include a battery backup system, a cooling system, server racks, and an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), as well as a diesel generator and transfer switch for Ryan Hall, which contains the central server room. Additionally, the grant led to the naming and upgrade of the Ryan Hall third-floor computer labs, now known as the Emerson Technology Center.
“This gift enabled us to upgrade our computer labs, as well as do major work behind the scenes of our IT department,” said Sandra Lehrer, Fontbonne’s vice president for institutional advancement. “Before, if we had a power outage, we had about a 15-minute window to get systems back up, or we would run the risk of losing data. The university is now in a completely different place to safeguard our technology.”
While Emerson’s financial gift was more a “behind-the-scenes” boon to the campus, Farr’s presentation provided a rare and up-close glimpse into the leadership of a successful multinational corporation. For aspiring business students, especially, it was a momentous opportunity.
The day, however, brought with it one more surprise. On top of his company’s already generous grant, Farr, upon touring the IT department and seeing Fontbonne’s phone system, offered to fund its upgrade as well.
“He took one look at our phone system and knew immediately what we needed,” Lehrer said. “He’s a person who makes things happen and a very generous individual who firmly believes in supporting the country’s next generation of leaders.”
No one was happier with the surprise improvement than the IT department. “In the 20 plus years since Fontbonne acquired its current system, the technology in the telecommunications industry has been transformed,” Franz said. “Emerson recognized that a new telecommunications system, with its wide range of enhanced functionality, would transform our communications infrastructure and augment the level of services we can provide to our students, faculty, staff and other constituencies.”
The generosity, dedication to education, and level of corporate responsibility Emerson exhibited during this project didn’t surprise Dr. Linda Buhr, a former Emerson employee who is now a Fontbonne assistant professor of business administration and an organizer of the speaker series. She likened the company’s key tenets to Fontbonne’s mission and vision.
“Fontbonne’s overarching integration of ethics and integrity actually mirrors Emerson’s own deep dedication to those same grounding principles,” Buhr said. “That connection is what brought Mr. Farr to Fontbonne.”
And it is this type of strong corporate support for which the Fontbonne community will be continually grateful.
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Photo: David Farr, Emerson Electric CEO (standing to the left of Dr. Dennis Golden, Fontbonne president), is surrounded by appreciative students, faculty, alumni, staff and others during his visit to campus.