Jerome Chazen (’48 BA L&S) graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in economics. After earning his MBA at Columbia University and starting his career on Wall Street, he spent many years in the fashion industry. He was one of four founders of Liz Claiborne Inc. in the 1970s, and he eventually became the firm’s chairman.
He also is founder and chairman of Chazen Capital Partners, a private equity firm in New York City. He is founder and benefactor of the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for International Business at Columbia Business School. He has been involved in many other organizations, including the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, which he chaired for many years.
He and wife Simona met as undergraduates at the UW-Madison. They made the lead, $25 million naming gift for the Chazen Museum of Art. The $43 million addition and expansion of the museum, paid for entirely through gifts and grants, opened to rave reviews in October 2011. He is in his first term as a member of the UW Foundation Board of Directors.
How did you come to serve on the Board?
It was the result of a conversation that I had with Mike Knetter. We were discussing the needs of the university and what was happening with the state budget and so on and so forth. I had prior experience as a trustee of Columbia University, and knowing what the fundraising needs of a private university are – because there’s no state money at all – I was well aware of the way in which a private university went after their alumni and other interested people to raise money. They do things quite differently than public universities did.
As we thought about UW’s changing funding model, it became clear that the Foundation was going to have to maybe adopt some of the techniques that were successfully used by private universities. I thought I might be helpful in that regard.
How would you describe your Board experience?
Before I arrived, there had never been a Development Committee on the Board. The Development Committee was put together, and my first board meeting was the first meeting of the Development Committee. Mike’s got a big job in front of him: restructuring, rethinking, trying to figure out how to take what I would call a very limited staff compared with what some of the private universities have in terms of fundraising and making it work.
You and Mrs. Chazen were in Madison for the museum’s grand opening. What was your impression?
I was very pleased with the building itself. I thought the architect, the construction crew and everyone involved with it had done a wonderful job. That was nice. But what really impressed me was when I got done going through the museum. The comment I kind of made to myself, and to my wife at the time, was, “This is a real museum.” And it is! There’s a lot to see, a lot of interesting things, fascinating galleries and so on and so forth. There’s a lot of space to put the museum’s collection in. I thought it was terrific.
The little exposure I had to the community when I was there let me know it is a great thing for Madison. At some point, as the museum gets better known, it’s going to be a big tourist attraction as well.
How did you build your impressive collection?
We choose things that we care about looking at every day. That’s been the basis of the selection process that we’ve used throughout the years. We want things that we like. We pretty much decided on a period. You can’t just collect at random old masters and this school and that school. It’s better to focus on one thing, and of course we did focus on more modern pieces, mostly art of the ‘60s and ‘70s. We buy what we like.
We very much like the job that (director) Russell (Panczenko) has done over the years. The university is lucky to have somebody like him. He’s going to have a real challenge now of coming up with the right kind of temporary shows that will be interesting and attractive to the audience out there. That’s a big job, and it’s not easy to do, to consistently provide things that people want to come back and see. Because while the permanent collection is wonderful, and people enjoy seeing it, if that’s all there is, they won’t want to come back. These temporary shows become very important as audience builders.
I also like the fact that there’s plenty of room now for study. It will be good for the students at the university, the faculty teaching classes; it’s a win-win.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
I had a long career in the fashion industry and was successful in a variety of jobs that I held. Probably the proudest thing for me was the founding of my own company (Liz Claiborne) and having it succeed beyond my wildest dreams. It was a battle, it was hard, it was a lot of work, but it was very enjoyable and gave me a great deal of happiness.
Do you have a philosophy of leadership?
I certainly believe in leadership by example. I believe a leader has to show the people he works with exactly why things should be done in a particular way and for the leader to do those things instead of just sitting back and saying, “You do it.” That’s one part of leadership. The other part of leadership, when you’re working with people, it’s very important to delegate authority so the people who are working for you can do the job you want them to do.