Phil Gerdine and his late wife, Marjorie, “have quite a lot of connections with BU,” he says, and that’s obvious from the string of affiliations that follow their formal names: Philip Van Horn Gerdine, PhD (GRS’61,’64, Questrom’71), and Marjorie Wells Gerdine, PhD (CAS’51, Wheelock’58, GRS’59,’67).
But after Marjorie passed away late last year, Phil reviewed their estate plans and realized that, despite substantial gifts to other institutions, “there was nothing for BU.” He quickly set about changing that.
The result? Two generous endowments, one at the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) and the other at Questrom School of Business, that will make a real difference to generations of BU students and faculty.
The power of psychology
Gerdine’s first priority was to honor his wife and her ties to the University—“she was Miss BU!” he exclaims—as well as her distinguished career as a child psychologist, including her work as a BU lecturer. So he is giving $1 million to endow the Marjorie Wells Gerdine Scholarship, to be awarded with a preference for CAS undergraduates majoring in psychology.
“This scholarship is a wonderful tribute to Marjorie’s extensive career as a clinical psychologist and educator,” says CAS Dean Stan Sclaroff. “Her energy and dedication to improving the psychological welfare of children and adolescents is an inspiration for generations of students to come.”
Like his wife, Philip Gerdine earned master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology and clinical psychology at BU. Unlike her, however, he pursued a career in business instead. And he says that’s because of her.
“It was the spring of ’64,” he recalls. “I went over to her place—we weren’t married yet. We were talking, and she suddenly said, ‘You don’t belong in psychology.’
“ ‘What do you mean?’
“ ‘Well, you don’t.’
“I slammed out of there. I was furious: ‘I’m never going to see her again, what’s she talking about—’ Well, she was right.”
So he helped some friends start a radio station in New Jersey, where he expressed his lifelong love of classical music as a DJ, and then—again at Marjorie’s urging—enrolled in Harvard Business School. Though he completed all the coursework there, he says, Harvard did not give him an MBA, a degree he earned many years later at BU.
Gerdine sees his gifts, in part, as a way to show his gratitude for that difference.
“It’s an endorsement of BU,” he says. “You don’t reject people; you educate them well. And you’ve got some excellent people there.”
After Harvard, Gerdine launched his career in business, first at Boston Consulting Group and then at General Electric and Siemens. As it turned out, his earlier education proved more relevant than you might expect.
“What I did,” Gerdine explains, “was apply psychology in business.”
For instance: when Siemens, a German company, bought Plessey, a British one, after World War II, Gerdine knew that postwar tensions would be running high. He also knew that the British respected and valued Americans for what they’d done both during and after the war.
So when Siemens sent him to England to meet with Plessey executives, he says, “I went out there as an American” and acted as “American” as possible, not British. “I did something they never do: I went and shook hands with every employee in there.”
He credits such insights to his training in psychology.
“I was able to manage people,” Gerdine says, “and that is the thing I feel is most missing in business.”
Building cultural competence
Which brings us to Gerdine’s second gift to BU: a transformative investment, made through a combination of current and planned giving, in global business education at Questrom.
This investment is twofold: first, $1.5 million to endow the Philip Van Horn Gerdine Professorship of the Practice in Global Business, which will bring expert practitioners to Questrom to share their insights and global connections with students. The professorship marks a significant milestone in Questrom’s longstanding drive to lead the way in global business education.
In addition, a gift of $500,000 will endow the Gerdine Fellowship in Global Experience, which will support graduate students’ participation in Questrom’s global experience programs. These programs place students in a variety of business settings around the globe, giving them irreplaceable real-world experience in cross-cultural communication and management.
“Phil knows from his own experience that understanding the nuances of business cultures in different parts of the world is key to a successful career in today’s business environment,” says Susan Fournier, Allen Questrom Professor and dean of Questrom. “His gifts will enable generations of our students to develop real expertise in global management, and we could not be more grateful for his foresight and generosity.”
The admiration is mutual.
“I’m getting very fond of the dean,” Gerdine says. “I call her Madame Fournier now—because it is, after all, international business.”