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Rady alumni highlight $100 million commitment

Choking up, Ernest Rady began his speech at the April 7 event designed to thank him, his wife Evelyn and the entire Rady Foundation by turning the tables. The businessman and long-time philanthropist thanked Rady School of Management Dean Robert Sullivan and the school’s countless alumni. Rady struggled for words to show his appreciation of the work Sullivan has done for the community for over a decade.

“I always say I got more than I gave, and in this case today, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude,” Rady said. “How do you say thank you? I don’t know.”

J.R. Beyster Auditorium was full of faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends for the announcement of a $100 million commitment from the Rady family to the school that he and his foundation helped launch just 11 years prior. Rady gave an initial $30 million lead gift in 2004, followed by an additional $5 million toward the expansion of the school’s campus.

Gratitude was in abundance that day, with UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla calling the Rady School an integral, entrepreneurial part of the university’s science and technology communities. Sullivan, who serves as the school’s founding and only dean, emceed.

“The Rady School has had an impressive first decade as measured by [the] successes of its entrepreneurial alumni,” Sullivan said. “The best and the brightest students really define the quality of the alumni that we produce, who ultimately create the companies … that create the wealth we share.”

That Entrepreneurial Spirit

Rady alumni are indeed entrepreneurial. With 83 alumni-headed companies and an estimated $2 billion influx into the San Diego region’s economy in 2014, there is little doubt the school is educating leaders eager to give back. And they’re not just doing it financially, either. Two recent Rady graduates were highlighted at the announcement, both thanking Sullivan and the Rady family for their innovative vision.

Ashley Van Zeeland, Ph.D. ’12, is the co-founder and CEO of Cypher Genomics. She came to UC San Diego as a scientific researcher, working with Scripps Translational Science Institute on genetic-medicine research where she used DNA sequencing to identify causes of rare and difficult-to-treat diseases.

“I found a mission that most closely echoed my own,” Van Zeeland said of the school. “My Rady experience truly gave me the knowledge and the tools to translate scientific discoveries and technology into a meaningful business.”

Cypher Genomics’ first patient was Lilly, who has been living her entire life with what doctors call an idiopathic human disease—those rare and serious afflictions that are hard to diagnose and usually unresponsive to standard treatment. Lilly’s mother, Gay Grossman, told of her family’s early struggle of bouncing from specialist to specialist before finding Van Zeeland’s method of whole-genome sequencing, which ultimately discovered a key mutation in Lilly’s DNA . Once correctly identified, Lilly’s disease could then be targeted through correct medication. Told she would probably live to be 20 years old, the 18-year-old now has a full life-expectancy, will be graduating from high school soon and looks forward to going to college.

Going Green

A second alumnus, Pierre Sleiman, ’13, also gives back to the community in a unique way. The founder and CEO of Go Green Agriculture, Sleiman melds his interest in science, technology and agriculture to redefine the traditional family farm, creating change on a global food scale.

Go Green Agriculture started as a small business with three employees and a handful of mom-and-pop vendors. Sleiman said they produced about 20,000 heads of lettuce monthly on less than an acre of land. Today, these numbers have increased exponentially. Go Green Agriculture now produces upwards of 250,000 heads of lettuce on five acres, and their products are available in over 165 grocery outlets. Employing over 30 families, the company will soon produce 500,000 heads a month and reach even further.

Perhaps even more impressive, at a time when California is facing one of the most serious droughts in its history, Sleiman’s Go Green Agriculture grows all their produce hydroponically, using 80-85 percent less water than conventional methods.

“Rady doesn’t provide just a world-class education to our students, it provides an impact on the local community that has a ripple effect … through the world,” Sleiman said. The alumnus was recently honored by The White House as a Champion of Change for his innovative work.

The Return-on-Life

The $100 million commitment from Evelyn and Ernest Rady is the largest single commitment in history to a business school of Rady’s size and youth. The funds are earmarked for recruiting faculty, attracting the students and pioneering new academic initiatives at the school. Driven by their return-on-life philosophy, the Rady’s would like their wealth to go towards helping as many people as possible, much like alumni Sleiman and Van Zeeland are doing in their endeavors.

“I didn’t truly appreciate the speed or depth of impact that this program could have on a single individual, and the multiplier effect that individual could have on others,” said Rady. “I expect to see results compound, and the graduates have an even greater impact in the future.”