Alumnus donates $30M to help UF

By Mary Jane Park
Published January 20, 2007

Shortly after pledging the largest gift in the University of Florida's history, William R. Hough headed back to the classroom Friday.

The St. Petersburg businessman sat in on a UF class on venture capitalism. Considering he had just donated $30-million to his alma mater, he probably didn't need it.

But that's not Bill Hough.

"Whenever I'm up here, I like to learn something," he said. "Whatever success I've had in business, I really attribute it to the fundamental learning I got here."

The gift was the second major donation Hough, 80, and his wife, Hazel, made this week.

On Thursday, they gave $3-million to create an endowment that will allow St. Petersburg College to take over the Palladium Theater - a key element in a deal creating a downtown arts hub in St. Petersburg.

"There's no connection between the two gifts, other than my general interest in education," Hough said. "They were really coincidence. Right now, I am thinking about whatever gifting I'm doing. I'm doing it now while I'm alive, instead of when I'm dead."

UF officials are grateful for that.

His record donation was announced at a Gainesville news conference that included the Houghs and university president Bernie Machen. It will benefit UF's Warrington College of Business.

In 1948, Hough was among the first class of students to graduate from the college with a master's of business administration.

The $30-million gift is eligible for up to $20-million in state matching grants and will help pay for construction of a building for graduate business programs. It also will set up an endowment for improvements in teaching and curriculum.

"I think we have an opportunity to grow business school graduates and keep them working right here," Hough said.

If state leaders approve, the graduate school will be named the Hough Graduate School of Business, and the new building will be named William R. Hough Hall.

Hough plans to be around to see both.

An Eagle Scout as a youth, Hough can still fit into his uniform. He has signed up to compete in the bicycle portion of the St. Anthony's Triathlon in April.

Hough has never lacked for energy. In the 1960s, he founded William R. Hough & Co., a St. Petersburg municipal bond firm he led for decades. Among its many projects: financing Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. He sold the company to RBC Dain Rauscher of Minneapolis in 2004.

He also was the biggest shareholder of the $2.8-billion Republic Bank and chairman of its holding company, Republic Bancshares, before BB&T acquired it in 2004.

From their apartment in St. Petersburg's Bayfront Tower, where they have lived since 1976, the Houghs can see the Museum of Fine Arts, the Salvador Dali Museum, the Mahaffey Theater, American Stage and Bayfront Medical Center. They have made significant contributions to all, along with the Florida Orchestra, the Tampa Bay Research Institute, Eckerd College, the Canterbury School of Florida and the Boy Scouts.

But the UF business college has been a particular favorite. He has served on its advisory council since 1998. In 2000, he established the Hough Program in Finance, which helps students earn master's degrees in one year without having full-time work experience.

He has a specific goal for his latest gift.

"I'm hoping it will propel the UF graduate business school into the top level of business schools nationally," Hough said.

Mary Jane Park can be reached at park@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8267.

Fast Facts:

Major gifts

Here are some of the largest cash gifts made to the University of Florida:

2002: $15-million to the UF Brain Institute from the Miami-based McKnight Brain Research Foundation. The money supports research into memory loss associated with aging.

1999: $10-million to the UF law school from Pensacola personal injury lawyer Fred Levin.

2006: $10-million to UF's department of biomedical engineering from St. Petersburg surgeon and businessman J. Crayton Pruitt.

Jan. 19, 2007: $30-million to UF's graduate school of business from St. Petersburg businessman William R. Hough.

Hough's giving

Recent major St. Petersburg donations from William R. and Hazel Hough

2007: Palladium Theater endowment fund, $3-million.

2006: Bayfront Medical Foundation capital campaign, $500,000.

2005: Museum of Fine Arts, new wing to be named for Hazel Hough. Amount not disclosed.

Sources: Times files, University of Florida