by Janice Endresen
View a slide show of Sage Hall's reconstruction and dedication in the Web edition of Cornell Enterprise at: Slideshow.
A makeover for Sage Hall, a new identity for the Johnson School
Euphoria filled the air at the Johnson School in 1998 when, after several years of anticipation, faculty, students, and staff moved into Sage Hall. Essentially a new building constructed within the multicolored brick walls of the Victorian Gothic structure, Sage Hall's complete renovation restored its original reputation as a magnificent, elegant building incorporating state-of-the-art technology. In 1875, when it was built as Cornell University's Sage College for Women, such technology meant steam heat, gas lighting, a bath on every floor, a gymnasium, and an infirmary. State-of-the-art technology in the new building included high-bandwidth fiber-optics linking every office, classroom, student laboratory, special research area, library, and classroom seat; classrooms wired for two-way distance learning, with cameras, projects, network feeds, and phone lines; and the Parker Center for Investment Research, with its Robert S. Boas Trading Room equipped with live feeds from the world's principal financial markets and top-notch analytical software.
The move to Sage Hall had been several years in the making. The school had outgrown Malott Hall, both in square footage and in terms of technological capability, but still needed a home that was centrally located on Cornell's campus, with easy access to other schools and campus facilities. At the same time, Sage Hall had fallen into disrepair (one wall was in danger of collapse and the building no longer met fire-resistance standards) and the beloved Cornell landmark was in dire need of restoration. After exploring many options, Dean Alan Merten announced in 1993 that the school had decided to move forward and commit to making Sage Hall its new home. In 1994, the school's longtime benefactor and friend, Sam Johnson '50, then chairman of S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc., provided both financial and inspirational support for the decision to recycle Sage Hall, saying: "A distinctive institution needs a distinctive building. Such a building inspires creativity and a real esprit de corps in the people who will work and study there." Johnson knew what he was talking about: The building that houses S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc.'s headquarters in Racine, Wisc., in which he'd worked his entire life, was built by Frank Lloyd Wright.
In order to transform the 104,00-square-foot, 19th-century building into the 145,000 square-foot facility the Johnson School required, the building's foundations were deepened and a new basement excavated to accommodate eight amphitheater classrooms, and the open part of the U formed by the original building was enclosed with a new wing, creating the enclosed courtyard covered with a glass roof that became the heart of the school, the Dyson Atrium.
Ten years later, Sage Hall and all its amenities have become so integral to the fabric of life at the Johnson School that it's difficult to imagine the school apart from the building that has truly become its home. At the same time, the school's identity has become synonymous with the prominence and beauty of the historic structure located at the center of Cornell's campus.
The Parker Center for Investment Research and the Cayuga Fund: Wired for business
In 1997, when the Johnson School was still housed in Malott Hall and Sage Hall's reconstruction was well underway, then-acting Dean Tom Dyckman created the Parker Center for Investment Research with the support of a major gift from Jeffrey P. Parker '65, MEng'66, MBA '70. The center became a physical reality in 1998, when the school moved into the newly renovated Sage Hall with its state-of-the-art trading room.
The Parker Center was conceived and developed by Professors Charles Lee, PhD '90, and Bhaskaran Swaminathan. Together, they imagined a three-pronged approach to investment research and asset management education: a powerful combination of a state-of-the-art trading room that would allow users to receive and analyze live financial information; a student-managed, faculty-directed investment fund that would educate students in a hands-on setting as well as offer investors a competitive rate of return on their investment; and a robust research component that would allow faculty members to test theories using actual market data in a cutting-edge computing environment, thereby setting the center apart from all other business school programs.
Ten years later, at a March 6, 2008 celebration in New York City marking the milestone anniversary, Swaminathan said to attendees via video: "I am so happy to see that all three of these elements have succeeded beyond our wildest imagination."
The student-managed fund that Swaminathan and Lee envisioned was established in late 1998 as the Cayuga MBA Fund, LLC, through the generosity of the class of 1998 and a small circle of initial investors, operating as an enhanced index fund, closely tracking the S&P 500. As of October 2002, the fund strategy was changed; since then it has operated as a long-short, market-neutral equity hedge fund. With assets of $13.5 million under management, the Cayuga MBA Fund has achieved cumulative returns of 85 percent for investors from October 2002 to September 2007, far surpassing the results of its benchmarks, the HFR Equity Market Neutral Index and the HFR Equity Hedge Index.
The Cayuga MBA Fund is managed by students who serve as portfolio managers, quantitative analysts, a trader, and an investor relations manager. These students, under the guidance of faculty and outside investment advisors, work to achieve consistent positive returns that are uncorrelated with equity market benchmarks, and to maintain significantly lower volatility than the broader market.
Charles Lee remarked via video during the Cayuga Fund 10th Anniversary celebration, "The initiative has really succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. I'm not referring only to the returns, which have been stellar . . . but I'm thinking of more of the every-deepening talent pool that the Cayuga Fund alum network represents. There have been over 200 graduates of the programs now, and this is a pool of investment professionals that is beginning to make its mark on the investment world."
Today, under the guidance of Director Sanjeev Bhojraj, professor of accounting, the Parker Center is widely acknowledged to be at the pinnacle of graduate education in investment research and asset management, distinguished by the Cayuga Fund, the center's innovative, high-impact research, superb teaching, and unparalleled electronic facilities.
Celebrating 10 years of Park Fellows
Recognizing more than 10 years ago that maintaining a reputation as a top business school would require an endowment to create scholarships in addition to a stellar facility and superior faculty, the Johnson School sought the necessary funding, and in 1996, Roy H. Park Jr., MBA '63, stepped forward to fund the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program, named in honor of his father, a media entrepreneur. The first Park Fellows entered the program in fall 1997.
"The establishment of the Park Fellowships marks the successful completion of three major objectives the Johnson School has had over the last decade," said then-Cornell president Hunter S. Rawlings when the fellowship program was announced in 1996. "The school has been successful in raising funds to create endowed professorships to attract the best and brightest faculty members, and was generously supported by friends and alumni in its capital campaign to ensure that the school has a world-class facility. Now, with the addition of the Park Fellows, the Johnson School will be without peer in its position as a leader in the field of graduate business education."
The fellowship offers full MBA tuition plus stipend to 25 incoming students, and its curriculum includes a cutting-edge leadership program designed to attract high-caliber talent. "[The program] is based on a strategic intent of attracting the best and the brightest, and creating a leadership niche," says Clint Sidle, program director. "I don't think anyone else can say they have a program like ours."
As part of the fellowship obligation, each Park Leadership Fellow makes a significant public service contribution to the Johnson School, the university, or the surrounding community. The Service Leadership Projects serve as a capstone for leadership development at the Johnson School by providing the Park Fellows with an opportunity to practice their leadership skills, integrate the perspectives of diverse disciplines, and develop an enduring commitment to public service. The projects are structured to focus on service improvements and program enhancements for either non-profit organizations or for-profit start-ups that stimulate economic development. Among this year's projects are: developing an "Outdoor Adventure Program" with the Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca and the Ithaca Youth Bureau; creating a strategic plan for the Ithaca Free Clinic; and hosting a residential retreat called Dialogos that promotes appreciation of diversity.
Over the years, many projects that began as Park Leadership Service Projects have had lasting impact on the school and community, including Camp $tart-Up, founded in 2002, a week-long, interactive business and leadership experience for teen women ages 13-19. Student-run initiatives include BR Ventures, a venture capital fund, and BR Incubator, a new business incubator.
The public-service aspect of the Park Fellowship education has had a lasting impact on the program's graduates. In a 2007 alumni survey, 63 percent of Park Fellows reported engaging in altruism and giving, board membership, and volunteer service, compared with 40 percent of their MBA counterparts.
The survey also found that Park Fellows considered their Park program experience, not just their MBA education, as most influential on professional outcomes. Among the qualities survey respondents cited were self-confidence, learning from experience, empowering others, and interpersonal communication skills.
"The way we have put this together over the years has made it a powerful experience for our fellows," Sidle says.
This article includes excerpts from an article about the Park Fellows celebration written by Anne Ju and originally published in the Cornell Chronicle.
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