Co-founder of Taco Bell's parent company gives $21 million to Mizzou's journalism school

ST. LOUIS • University of Missouri-Columbia leaders celebrated a $21.6 million gift to the journalism school Friday — the sixth-largest donation in the flagship campus’ history according to campus leaders.

The massive gift comes from David Novak, a co-founder and recently retired chief executive for Yum! Brands, the umbrella company for Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut.

The donation will create a Novak Leadership Institute within the School of Journalism.

Novak, a leadership, advertising and marketing guru, is one of a few former Fortune 500 executives who does not have a business degree, Mizzou chief development officer Tom Hiles said. Instead, he graduated from Mizzou’s journalism program in 1974. That, according to Hiles, is something Novak considers to be pivotal in what shaped his career.

“I owe my success to my love of advertising and marketing that was discovered and nurtured here,” Novak said in a statement. “There is a tremendous void in leadership education in our country and we must teach our students the skills needed to make them great leaders and equip them to work with others to get the very best results.”

A leadership institute sounds ambiguous, and it sort of is, but the Institute’s leaders argue that that’s a good thing.

It starts with the strategic communications department in the journalism school, according to the Institute’s executive director Margaret Duffy.

She said the goal is to apply to the curriculum Novak’s principles of entrepreneurship. In addition it will focus on the power of earned recognition, rather than awarding someone for simply participating in an endeavor.

The money will fund undergraduate and graduate classes, an online master’s degree specialty program, lecture series, symposiums, mobile boot camps. In addition will work directly with companies on a certificate program, an effort that organizers hope will generate revenue for the university.

“We want this to be a legacy of his work and make that part of our culture,” Duffy said, adding that nothing about what the institute will do will be “static.” No class will read the same book from a thought leader semester after semester. It’s about being hands on, learning through research and experiencing “how to lead by taking people with you,” she said.

It starts with the journalism school, but Duffy said there were already conversations about bringing this institute’s curriculum to other Mizzou colleges, such as education and business.

“The thing that’s both fantastic and scary about this is that there really is no limit to what we can do,” Duffy said.

This gift pushes Mizzou to $940 million out of a $1.3 billion fundraising goal through the “Our Time to Lead” campaign that ends in 2020, according to Hiles.

One of the three components of the university’s campaign is to create five or more “signature centers and institutes” that, according to Hiles, will bolster research or enhance what makes the flagship school unique. Novak’s new institute is the fourth such center in this campaign, the others being the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy.

Fundraising took a hit in the most recent budget year, topping out at $152 million, down $19 million from the previous, record year. Hiles said he was hopeful that this donation signaled a changing time of donor interest after a difficult few years at Mizzou.