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BU renames business school after record $50 million gift

Boston University renamed its business school Monday in honor of a retail industry magnate and his wife after the couple donated $50 million, the largest single gift in the university’s history.

BU’s School of Management was christened the Questrom School of Business following a short campus ceremony honoring Allen and Kelli Questrom. The money will endow 10 faculty chairs and enable the school to begin planning to build a new graduate program facility, university officials said.

At the ceremony, some attendees reacted with a chorus of “oohs’’ when university president Robert A. Brown announced the amount of the gift. As Brown spoke, a banner unfurled on the outside of the business school along Commonwealth Avenue, showing its new name.

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Then Questrom and his wife took to the stage, in front of shiny red curtains and red floor lights, to explain why they decided to give to the school.

Allen Questrom, who graduated from the business school in 1964 and is a university trustee, told the story about an influential professor, the late Alan Beckwith, who persuaded him to go into the retail industry instead of following his dream to be a ski instructor in Vermont.

Questrom, who is retired, is famous for a career leading several department stores including JCPenney, Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York, and Federated Department Stores, which later became Macy’s. He is known, in particular, for his turnaround skills and helped lead many of those companies out of bankruptcy.

“Today, it’s more important than anything that kids get an education,” Questrom said.

Kelli Questrom is a former fashion editor and marketing director and volunteer who also serves on the board of several art museums and educational organizations.

She joked during the ceremony that the donation was “the best shopping spree I’ve ever been on.” More seriously, she said, she is glad the couple could give while they are still active and can help oversee the gift’s use.

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Robert Knox, president of the BU board of trustees, said the Questrom gift is the second of two transformational events at the university in the last 10 years. The first, he said, was Brown’s becoming president in 2005.

“We thank you over 50 million times,” he said.

The business school’s 1996 building was designed for 1,700 students but now accommodates more than 3,500, according to a statement from BU. The donation will allow the school to plan for additional classrooms.

The gift comes 2½ years after BU announced a $1 billion fund-raising campaign. The university so far has raised $823 million, officials said.


Contact Laura Krantz at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follower her on Twitter @laurakrantz.