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If state universities get endowment boost from Legislature, thank this guy

Two big-name Bobs at the BC CEO Club; Wayfair brings workers back, with a treat; New effort to fund diverse entrepreneurs; What’s in a (place)name?

Local philanthropist Bob HildrethChris Morris for The Boston Globe

Once lawmakers finally reach an agreement on how best to spend billions in federal stimulus and state budget surplus, the big winners will include the public colleges and universities in Massachusetts.

And those schools might want to write thank-you letters to local philanthropist Bob Hildreth.

Included in both the House and Senate spending plans are matching funds to spur private donations to state school endowments. The House sets aside $25 million. The Senate, $30 million. The final amount hinges on conference committee negotiations, which seem destined to spill over into the new year.

There’s no question the bill will get done. It’s just a matter of when. Hildreth’s pet project is a shoo-in now. He lobbied the Legislature for its passage, alongside the people who represent the schools, such as UMass president Marty Meehan and Vincent Pedone, executive officer of the state university system’s Council of Presidents. Jim Rooney, chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, was among the business leaders who championed it.

“This was a big lobbying effort,” said Hildreth, who made his money in the sovereign debt markets years ago and now runs two education-related nonprofits, Inversant and the Hildreth Institute.


The Legislature used to regularly set aside money for the matching grant program, which provides one state dollar for every two donated dollars. But the state funds dried up more than 10 years ago. Hildreth and the others lobbied to get $10 million included in a supplemental budget in 2019 to bring it back, and they did so again this year as lawmakers mulled this multibillion-dollar spending package.

“It raises the profile of these colleges,” Hildreth said. “That’s how I sold it to the private sector. They care so much about their workforce and (this money) is mainly being used for low-income scholarships.”

Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, the UMass Boston chancellor, said he’s thankful for Hildreth’s leadership as the driving force behind the endowment match program. UMass officials estimate that the state invested $59 million in matching funds from 1997 through 2007, and again in 2020, attracting nearly $120 million in private donations to the various schools.


“It’s really important for the medium and long-term health of the institutions to build up their endowments so they can at least become competitive with the privates, and to diversify their revenue streams,” said state Senator Eric Lesser, a vocal advocate for the program at the State House. “They sit side by side with institutions that have some of the biggest, wealthiest endowments in the country.”

Bob and Bob cut a big deal

It was the first Boston College Chief Executives Club luncheon of the COVID-19 era. But it also turned out to be Negotiating a Deal 101, with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft giving the lecture.

Kraft introduced the main speaker, Walt Disney Co. chief executive Bob Chapek, at last week’s event at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Kraft praised Chapek’s role in the talks between Disney and the NFL earlier this year. Those talks ultimately led to Disney landing a new contract for Monday Night Football for its ESPN network and putting its ABC network in the rotation for the Super Bowl — reportedly to the tune of $2.7 billion a year for 10 years.

“My respect for Bob only grew while working with him on the NFL negotiations,” Kraft said. “Long-term contract negotiations can be very challenging and complicated. The more people involved, the more difficult it becomes. I’ve always wanted to have as few people in the room as possible — the principals making the decision. I believe that’s the best way to get a deal done.”


Chapek earned Kraft’s trust during those tough talks.

“One thing I’ve learned in business: a lot of people have trouble doing the last 5 percent in closing,” Kraft added. “Bob knows how to close. After that negotiation, I decided I was investing more in Disney’s stock.”

Come back to the office, and go out to eat

Welcome back to the Wayborhood.

That’s essentially what the bosses at — you guessed it — Wayfair are saying to employees. And they’re saying it with $50 of credit, per employee, for use at roughly 100 local restaurants.

The online furniture retailer is going to require its 5,000-plus Boston workers to return to the office in January, three days a week. But now, it’s using a different approach to persuade employees to get out of the house: a restaurant credit program, by working with Toast, the Boston-based provider of payment software.

Wayfair is also offering other freebies to employees. One group has taken a ride with Boston Duck Tours, for example, while another spent the night bowling at Kings. The offers end on Dec. 1, the day before the company’s holiday party outdoors at the SoWa Market in the South End.

Wayfair estimates the “Support the Wayborhood” effort and the party will cost about $1 million. The goal is to encourage employees to start meeting up in person again, and to give back to the “Wayborhood.”


“It’s definitely creating some nice buzz in the office,” said Kate Gulliver, Wayfair’s global head of talent. “The intent was to create this positive vibe and spirit around being together. I think it has achieved that.”

Seeding a new generation of small businesses

Colette Phillips wishes she saw more helping hands when she started her marketing business three decades ago, and fewer warnings that a Black woman couldn’t make it in this town as a small business owner.

Phillips has definitely “made it.” And now she is giving back — by raising $600,000 in the past year to distribute microgrants to diverse entrepreneurs. The vehicle is the GK Fund that Phillips launched with Andre Porter and Michael Benezra.

The first round of those $10,000 microgrants, six in all, were announced last week, along with mentoring and marketing help. The winners range from a retailer (Tonya Winston and her B. Royal Boutique) to an app that lets friends share what they’re watching on TV (MustWatch, led by Chelinde Edouard).

The recipients were picked by a selection committee that included Phillips, Windwalker Group owner Herby Duverné, Saskia Epstein of PNC Bank, former lieutenant governor Evelyn Murphy, and Jay Gonzalez, a lawyer at Hinckley Allen and a former Democratic gubernatorial nominee who cochairs Mayor Michelle Wu’s transition team.

Phillips said she was impressed with the “hustle and flow” that the winners displayed.


“I wish I had this kind of access 30 years ago when I started my business,” Phillips said. “In some ways, I see a little bit of myself in these entrepreneurs.”

Will they call themselves Alewife Group now?

You can take Liberty Square Group out of Liberty Square, but you can’t take Liberty Square out of Liberty Square Group. Or something like that.

After 22 years, founder Scott Ferson has left the downtown Boston spot, just off of State Street, that inspired the name of his public affairs firm. The rent was high: $15,000 a month. The parking: brutal. And the Financial District has lost much of its allure since the pandemic hit, with “For Lease” signs seemingly on every block.

So last week, Ferson set up shop in a smaller office in Cambridge, near Alewife. His 15-person firm is saving more than $130,000 a year in rent.

“After 22 years in Liberty Square, not to be too full of myself, but people probably know Liberty Square Group better than Liberty Square,” Ferson said.

He’s not looking back.

“I thought this was going to be hard, and it proved not to be hard,” Ferson said. “I think I’m late to the game. I think a lot of people who are in my business have hightailed it out.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him @jonchesto.