Stephen Ross and Related Cos. CEO donate $6 million for UM business school diversity initiatives

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Billionaire Stephen Ross and the CEO of his New York City-based real estate empire are donating $6 million to help underrepresented students at their alma mater University of Michigan.

The gift from Ross, chairman and founder of Related Cos., and Jeff Blau, who has led the company since 2012, will establish the Blau Initiative for Diversity in Real Estate and Infrastructure, and the Related Scholars Fund, at UM’s Ross School of Business, the company and university announced Thursday.

The fund will be used to establish scholarships for attracting minority students to the fields of real estate and investing, as well as linking them to internships.

The donation is being rolled out in tandem with the real estate firm’s new diversity and inclusion initiative, which aims to increase the diversity among its employees. The company said that of its 3,737 workers, 55 percent identify as Black or African American; Hispanic or Latinx; Asian; Native American or Alaskan; Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; or mixed-race.

“REBNY (Real Estate Board of New York) is our real estate board here. You ever go to a REBNY dinner, it’s probably 90 percent white male, and that’s a huge industry problem,” Blau told Crain’s. “This is not going to get solved in one day, one week, one month or one year, but if we really put an effort to it we can bring more people into the industry.”

Ross, a native of Detroit and owner of the Miami Dolphins, has pledged around $400 million to the university, more than any other donor. In February, he announced a $100 million philanthropic gift to develop the UM Detroit Center for Innovation at the former site of the planned Wayne County jail.

“I’ve been in real estate for more than 50 years, and one of the most important things we can do over the next 50 years is to foster more diversity in our industry,” Ross said in a news release. “The Ross School is an ideal partner in this work.”

In June, Ross committed another $13 million to RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality), a nonprofit he launched in 2015 to use sports as a platform to combat systemic racism. Ross has been the target of criticism for his support of President Donald Trump, who also made his name in New York real estate, and for his controversial stance on kneeling during the national anthem.

Blau has overseen new developments by Related totaling $60 billion across different sectors of the real estate industry. He donated $10 million to the construction of UM’s Jeff T. Blau Hall, dedicated in 2016.

Related is behind some of the highest-profile projects in New York City, including the 28-acre Hudson Yards project, billed as the largest private real estate development in the history of the country, according to the firm’s website. It is expected to be complete by 2025.

The innovation center in Detroit is a collaboration between Related and fellow billionaire Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock. The first phase of the project, expected to break ground next year and be complete by 2023, will feature a 190,000-square-foot research and graduate education building for UM students in automotive mobility, artificial intelligence, sustainability, cybersecurity, financial technology and other tech fields. Ross told Crain’s last October the total project cost could top $750 million.

It is unclear how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the development. Blau told Crain’s that Related projects around the country are being paused until the future becomes clearer.

“There’s no question the development projects around the country are going to be put on hold and things are going to slow down,” he said. “We need to figure out the future of office, where people are going to want to live. There’s so many questions that people don’t have the answers to as a result of COVID, so there’s definitely going to be a pause in new development.”