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General Mills former CEO to give $20 million to U-M

Stephen Sanger, the retired chairman and CEO of food giant General Mills, and his wife Karen are making a $20-million gift to the University of Michigan to expand leadership development programs at the Ross School of Business.

Today the university is expected to announce creation of the Sanger Leadership Center, to be headed by Ross associate dean Scott DeRue, with the aim of developing leaders who not only succeed at business but also make a positive impact on the world and their communities.

Sanger, who received his MBA from U-M in 1970, said he was impressed in recent years by development of U-M's Ross Leadership Initiative under DeRue.

"I found over the years that the Michigan MBA brought a certain combination of humility and leadership skill that I thought was unique," Sanger said in a phone interview Wednesday, "and I think the work they're doing ... is very much in line with what employers and their communities need."

U-M's MBA program has long included community service projects such as working with Focus:HOPE in Detroit, but DeRue in recent years has expanded the leadership activities to undergraduate B-school students — and he said the Sangers' gift will enable U-M to involve non-Ross students as well.

Activities under the Sanger Leadership Center umbrella will include annual Impact Challenge and Crisis Challenge projects. Recent Impact Challenge projects have put Ross students together with Detroit high school students to create and run a job fair — and to work with Detroit's TechTown and Ann Arbor SPARK to create a for-profit business to help small and medium-size businesses with technology and social media.

"Many really effective leaders capture attention through storytelling," DeRue said. He has incorporated story labs, asking students before they graduate "to think deeply about what their legacy in the world will be."

Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the Ross school, said the Sangers' gift will help build U-M's stature in leadership development, which she called "one of those burning issues that keeps CEOs up at night."
 
Steve Sanger grew up in Cincinnati and returned there to work at Procter & Gamble for four years after leaving U-M. In 1974, he joined Minneapolis-based General Mills, one of the world's largest food companies with consumer brands that include Cheerios, Yoplait, Pillsbury, Betty Crocker and Green Giant.

He rose to become president in 1993, was chairman and CEO from 1995-2007 and retired as chairman in 2008. On his watch, General Mills was often included on national lists of top places to work and in 2007 was cited by Fortune magazine as "a global top company for leaders," ranking sixth out of 550 global companies.

Karen Sanger was a secondary schoolteacher before becoming an attorney, specializing in small-business law.
The Sangers still live in Minnesota, and while not Michigan natives, they and their children — who did not attend U-M — have been enthusiastic fans of Wolverine sports teams dating back to Steve's days as an Ann Arbor MBA student.

"After Bo's first season," he said, referring to legendary football coach Bo Schembechler, "anyone who attended the 1969 Michigan-Ohio State game dates Michigan football from that point."

He also declared Jim Harbaugh to be "a great hire" as the new football coach and praised interim athletic director Jim Hackett, a 1977 U-M grad and former Steelcase CEO, for ably handling that.

This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press.
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