UC Irvine School to Pocket Millions

Times Staff Writer

An Iranian immigrant whose company created Hot Pockets frozen calzone-style sandwiches has pledged $30 million to UC Irvine’s business school, the largest gift in the university’s history.

In honor of the donation, which exceeds the school’s annual budget, the Graduate School of Management is being renamed the Paul Merage School of Business.

“It will be transformational,” said the school’s dean, Andrew Policano, who took his post in August after leaving the University of Wisconsin. “It will change the course of the school very rapidly.”


The gift will enable the business school to add five endowed faculty chairs, increase student fellowships and faculty research funds and provide money for other priorities, Policano said.

“This will create waves,” he said. “Everyone across the country knows we’ll be picking up some of the top people in the profession over the next few years.”

The donation marks the start of a $100-million fundraising campaign that the business school hopes will help it move into the top 25 in the country.

Merage, 61, earned his bachelor’s and MBA degrees from UC Berkeley. The Newport Beach resident said he gave the money to UCI because it was one of the most ambitious UC campuses, with a culture willing to embrace change. It is also located in a supportive business community and in a “hotbed of innovation.”

“I think here we can bring a lot of changes that can make the school truly distinguished,” Merage said. The university will receive $17.5 million now and $12.5 million after the death of Merage and his wife, Lilly.

The largest previous gifts to UCI were $20 million each from Irvine Co. Chief Executive Donald Bren and from Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli and his wife, Susan.

The previous largest gift to the business school was about $500,000, Policano said.

While Merage’s donation is a UCI record, it is well down the list of gifts to other schools in recent years. Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, his wife, Betty, and their foundation gave Cal Tech $600 million in 2001, and the Hewlett Foundation gave $400 million to Stanford that year.

Music and film mogul David Geffen gave $200 million to the UCLA School of Medicine.

Public universities around the country, including the University of California, have been increasing their fundraising efforts as financially strapped state governments provide less support.

Merage came to the United States from Iran at 16 to attend college. He founded Chief America Inc. in the late 1970s with his younger brother David, taking out two mortgages on his house and borrowing money from their parents.

Merage devised Hot Pockets when he noticed that more women were working and spending less time in the kitchen and that food could be heated quickly in a microwave oven.

In 2002, they sold the company to Nestle SA for $2.6 billion.

Merage has established four foundations, with missions that include encouraging trade between the United States and Israel and helping immigrants.

For Chancellor Ralph Cicerone, who is leaving in June to head the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., the donation is a lasting bookend to his five years heading UCI.

“This is an extraordinary gift, and we cannot express deeply enough our appreciation for Paul Merage’s great generosity,” Cicerone said in a news release.