When Jeff Walker arrived at UVA, he knew he wanted to go to McIntire, but upon starting his Accounting, Statistics, and Marketing courses in his second year, he grew even more excited. After getting to know the Commerce School faculty and his fellow students, he then knew that he had found his home at the University.
Spending time in classes, working with study groups, and conversing with professors in their offices all proved stimulating. The tight-knit learning environment at McIntire was fostering his professional interests and cultivating relationships with those who shared his passions.
“A smaller community in the larger UVA one fit me just right,” he says.
Indeed, those formative years, when he concentrated in Accounting and MIS, served as Beta Alpha Psi president and officer in the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, and remained active both inside and outside of McIntire, provided a balance between business and liberal arts that Walker would strive to continue throughout his life as he maintained close ties with the Commerce School.
On the Strength of the McIntire Experience
After earning his MBA in 1981 from Harvard Business School, where he later served as an executive in residence, he took on a long list of responsibilities that ranged from more than 25 years as founding Managing Partner of the private equity/venture capital firm JPMorgan Partners, Chairing the JPMorgan Foundation, and Vice Chairman of JPMorgan to founding nonprofit NPowerNY, serving as Chair of social change organization New Profit, Chair of Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello, Vice Chair with the United Nations Secretary General Health Envoy’s office, and many more. Throughout that time, he also served as a longtime McIntire Foundation Board Member, of which he was President for 10 years, and was on the boards of the Berklee College of Music, the University of Virginia, the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership, and a Chair of UVA’s Contemplative Sciences Center.
Yet throughout a noteworthy career enhanced by generosity with his time and resources, Walker has remained highly motivated to play a crucial and enduring role in the success story of the Commerce School.
“I got my first job because of Comm School professor recommendations, and I got into Harvard Business School because of the training and support I received from the professors and dean at McIntire,” he says. “And, because McIntire was one of the key foundations for my future career, I love being able to give back and support the School.”
Over the years, Walker and his wife, Sue, have established seven funds at the University, with three of them designed specifically for McIntire: the Walker Fund for Academic Excellence, the Walker Professorship in Growth Enterprises, and most recently, the Walker Family Foundation Bicentennial Scholars Fund, made through the Walker Family Foundation.
Established in 1996, the Walker Fund for Academic Excellence provides McIntire faculty with the resources to conduct deep research dives on important business issues. In its latest applications, Professor William Wilhelm studied ethics for financial markets and the moral challenges associated with conflicts of interest; Professor Zhaohui Chen co-authored a theoretical paper on the investment banking industry’s approaches to managing innovation, as well as a project studying how SPACs create value relative to the traditional IPO process.
The second fund, the Walker Professorship in Growth Enterprises, established in 1999, was initially created to back research “into companies that were on high-growth trajectories,” says Walker, pointing to tech, health, consumer, and manufacturing sectors, but explains that the situation dictated a different path at its start.
“As we were looking for a professor to fill the chair, we realized we had an amazing person at McIntire we could support, and he was focused on real estate: Professor George Overstreet. The strength of the person overrode our desire to focus on growth, and I am so proud of what George has built over the years,” he says.
After Overstreet’s retirement, Walker would like the fund to return to the original mission of studying organizations “that drive a lot of the growth and innovation of our economy.” And while Jeff and Sue Walker’s gifts have been nothing short of transformational—as they’ve come at pivotal moments in the School’s growth—they have also granted McIntire the flexibility to redirect endowment returns to meet many critical needs.
In addition to permitting the Commerce School to move $2 million in unspent returns from the professorship to be put toward the Fund for Academic Excellence, the Walkers committed additional funding to address other essential areas, with contributions to the School’s Building Expansion Project in Shumway Hall to fund its Atrium Gallery, unrestricted faculty support, and wellness.
“In order for McIntire to maintain its position as a top business school, it needs more flexible space with areas to gather, utilize advanced technology, and learn in flexible environments,” he says regarding the new learning space scheduled to begin construction in 2022.
The gift to wellness initiatives is of special relevance for Walker. He considers “flourishing,” which is often defined as the product of pursuing an authentic life and connecting with passions—along with wellness—as particularly vital components of success for all McIntire students, faculty, and staff. And as Chair of UVA’s Contemplative Sciences Center, he notes that he has seen firsthand the benefits of bringing the tools of flourishing and well-being to every school at UVA.
“Building the skills of self-inquiry, learning how to best work with others in a community and organization, and coming together for the positive social changes are key for everyone at the University,” Walker says. “In fact, those who have strong flourishing skills, also known as social and emotional (SEL) learning skills, have been shown to be preferred by employers and to be promoted more quickly than those with low SEL skills. Supporting the social, emotional, and physical health of the McIntire community is an essential building block to ensure we have healthy, confident, and collaborative leaders taking their degrees and being positive contributors to society.”
For their most recent gift, the Walkers committed $1.5 million in May 2021 to support the Walker Family Foundation Bicentennial Scholars Fund, a fund that will receive a University match that brings the total to $3 million in need-based scholarship impact for undergraduate students.
Excited about the next steps in the evolution and development of the Commerce School, Walker’s energy and affection for where he spent his formative time as an undergrad himself are palpable.
“It is fun to work with other alums to help support the Dean and staff to keep McIntire one of the best business schools in the world and to support its growth and innovative spark,” Walker says. “McIntire is a home to me where I can find others who have similar passions and where I can be a contributing member of its community.”