It’s the largest gift in school history — and one of the biggest ever received by any business school, ever. Combining gifts from a year ago, David LaCross and his wife Kathleen have given the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia more than $100 million, an amount that will dramatically impact the school’s curricular and co-curricular offerings, just as it has already dramatically changed the physical environs of the Darden campus itself. The estimated value of the new gift is $56 million.
It’s a transformational gift — appropriate, says David LaCross, because the school changed his life in huge and important ways.
“Darden was a truly transformational place for me, and Kathy and I knew from graduation that we wanted to pay Darden back meaningfully,” says LaCross, who received his MBA from Darden in 1978.
‘STUDENTS NEED TO BE EXPOSED TO AI IN MEANINGFUL WAYS’
David LaCross and his wife Kathleen, who earned a bachelor’s degree from UVA in 1976, made an initial gift to the Darden School of $44 million in October 2022, which totaled $50 million with matching funds from the University of Virginia. That amount funded, among other things, a new botanical garden on campus that has greatly altered the look and feel of the Darden campus. On October 26, the couple expanded the gift to more than $100 million — funds that will pioneer artificial intelligence and underwrite a new residential college at Darden, with approvals to begin the latter project sought early next year.
David LaCross says his interest in AI dates back to the late 1990s, when his company, Risk Management Technologies, was acquired by Fair, Isaac & Co. “At that time, we studied extensively if neural networks could help improve Fair Isaacs’s credit score propositions and credit card fraud detection software,” he says. “While we did not believe AI was ready at that point, I felt it was only a matter of time before AI technologies would be ready for prime time. That time is now.
“Students need to be exposed to AI in meaningful ways, and there is no business school better positioned to teach managers how to work with AI in ethical and responsible ways than Darden.”
GIFT WILL SUPPORT MULTIPLE INITIATIVES
The LaCross family gift of $107 million is not only the largest in the B-school's 68-year history, it's also one of the 10 largest ever received by any business school. And it helped Darden reach the first milestone of its Powered by Purpose fundraising campaign, which achieved its $400 million goal two years before the 2025 conclusion of the campaign.
Among the initiatives the massive gift will fund: research and instruction in AI, ethical implications for managers, and the challenges and opportunities AI presents for business and society. Already that work is well underway at Darden, much of it financed by earlier LaCross largesse: Darden’s Artificial Intelligence Initiative was launched by the family’s 2022 $6.5 million bequest. Their latest gift will build on the work at Darden's Institute for Business in Society and Olsson Center for Applied Ethics, including advancing cutting-edge research, investing in new courses and modes of learning, and engaging with practice; as well as a Collaboratory for Applied Data Science in Business operated jointly with Virginia's School of Data Science.
'BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO THE DARDEN GROUNDS'
As part of the LaCross family’s initial gift to Darden, the school named the botanical gardens behind the façade of The Forum Hotel — an educational space that features an outdoor classroom, pond, bridge and more than 7,000 trees and shrubs — after the family. Last week, the gardens were dedicated just prior to the new gift announcement.
“The LaCross Botanical Gardens, in their full fall splendor this evening, prioritize connection and community and the importance of nature for our well-being,” Darden Dean Scott Beardsley says. “I can think of no better moment to name these gardens for David and Kathy LaCross and their family as they breathe new life into the Darden Grounds through their inspiring generosity.”
Last year, on the occasion of his initial $44 million gift to the Darden School, David LaCross recalled his own experience at Darden. “I recognized well before graduation that I owed a tremendous debt to Darden for its effective use of the case method, an incredibly special faculty that really knew how to get the most out of a class and my classmates,” he said. “I hoped from the outset that I would be in a position to give something back some day.”
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