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The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

$25 million donation opens new chapter for College of Business

UNI Alum David W. Wilson donates to Business College
David W. Wilson shakes hands with UNI President Mark Nook at a ceremony Friday morning celebrating Wilson’s $25 million donation to the College of Business.

Students, faculty and community members gathered on the South Curris lawn Friday morning to celebrate a Panther success story and a step in a new direction for business education.

1970 UNI alum David W. Wilson pledged the largest single donation in school history: a $25 million gift dedicated to the College of Business. In honor of the gift, the college will be renamed to the David W. Wilson College of Business pending Board of Regents approval. If approved, this would be the first named college in UNI history.

“To name the school after me is very humbling, and we’re glad that we can be here to support the university,” Wilson said.

David W. Wilson speaks in front of Curris Business Building Friday morning. The College of Business will be renamed “Wilson College of Business” in his honor, pending approval by the Board of Regents. (STEPH STARK)

Originally from Traer, Iowa, about 30 minutes south of Cedar Falls, Wilson grew up watching his parents work hard to support their family. While his mother helped fund his first year of college, he worked his way through the rest of school, graduating with no student debt. He went on to become the owner and CEO of Wilson Automotive, one of the largest automotive groups in the country with 18 dealerships and over 2,500 employees. He currently resides in the state of Nevada, but made the trek back to Cedar Falls for the donation announcement.

At the time Wilson attended UNI, there was no business major offered. He instead studied religion and philosophy and received a minor in business. 

“When I was a student here, I didn’t learn to be a teacher. I didn’t learn to be an accountant. I didn’t learn how to write a musical score. I didn’t learn how to be involved with performing arts, but I did learn how to think,” Wilson said. “I’m forever grateful that when I was here, I was introduced to how to think, and I believe that’s actually the reason for my success.”

I believe in a well-rounded liberal arts UNI education. I want to help pay that forward now with other people, so they can learn how to think

— David W. Wilson

Wilson’s educational background makes him particularly passionate about business ethics. In 1999, he donated $1 million to UNI to establish the David W. Wilson Chair of Business Ethics. He also has a deep foundation in philanthropy stretching from his early days being involved in Boy Scouts and church activities to now, when he can use his success to give financially.

“I believe in a well-rounded liberal arts UNI education. I want to help pay that forward now with other people, so they can learn how to think,” he said.

According to Wilson, the key to those thinking skills is ethics, an area that he believes is particularly vulnerable in today’s marketplace.

“Government and the media seem to blame business for all the world’s economic problems. Ethical capitalism needs all the help it can get. We believe this is a perfect time to make this gift to present a philosophical defense of capitalism,” he said.

“In our judgment, our nation’s political future, our political and economic future is in peril, and ethical defense of free markets is crucial to reversing the current anti-capitalist trend that we see today in America,” Wilson added.

David W. Wilson’s donation to the College of Business is the single largest donation in UNI history. (STEPH STARK)

Dean of the College of Business Leslie Wilson—who is married to David’s brother—also spoke at the event.

“David does right because he’s paying attention to the customer. He’s paying attention to his employees, and he’s paying attention to the communities in which his successful businesses reside in giving back, doing right for the success of the long term,” she said.

Part of the support for the Wilson College of Business will include a partnership with the Department of Philosophy and World Religions to expand the teaching of ethics university-wide for all up-and-coming professionals.

“We’re looking at students today who are future CEOs, who are future business owners, who are individuals who may be in the healthcare profession or social work, or teachers that every day have the opportunity to do what is right, but to do that they need the critical thinking skills,” Leslie Wilson said.

Wilson’s gift will also support students in need from Tama County. A portion of the money will establish the Wilson Scholars Fund, which will provide one student per year with funds to cover the entire cost of tuition and room and board after other scholarships have been applied. Each student selected will not only be a resident of Wilson’s home county, but will demonstrate a strong work ethic and desire to give back to the community.

The gift was made as part of the Our Tomorrow Campaign. The campaign now sits at $243 million of its $250 million goal.


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STEPHEN STARK, Photographer
Steph is a freshman majoring in art history. He mostly photographs sports, but also enjoys shooting street photography. He enjoys skateboarding in his free time. 

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