Why have you chosen to support the US Centre?
My gift is supporting the provision of internships for undergraduate students, enabling them to work with faculty on professional research programmes that emanate from the Centre. I thought it a very good idea as it provides a different academic challenge than would otherwise be undertaken in undergraduate study. Separately I thought it made a lot of sense to support something that is having a close look at US relations from a European perspective; obviously this is highly topical at the moment.
You’ve been an LSE donor since 2001. Why did you originally choose to support the Annual Fund?
I consider it the least I can do. I benefited tremendously from my time at LSE and I still do benefit through staying in touch and by taking advantage of the Public Lecture programme, and so this is one way of regularly giving back.
Also, an investment in education is never lost – it probably represents the highest return for society. From living and working in the US, I’m familiar with a lot of their financially independent universities, with endowments set up on the basis of donations. In Europe we have something to learn from that – although this culture is certainly growing, as public funding diminishes.
What is it about LSE’s Public Lecture programme that sparks your interest?
It is second to none in Europe. Current and former heads of state, Nobel laureates, former central bankers, top academics, authors of books: they all come to speak at LSE. You hear the arguments of the day first hand, as shown by the fact that you can often read in the press the following morning what someone has said in an LSE talk. I’ve seen Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen, Robert J. Shiller, Mervyn King, Wolfgang Schäuble. Whenever I can fit them into my schedule, I attend – and I really feel whoever doesn’t take advantage is missing out.
Looking back to 1994, why did you choose to come to LSE?
I came to London to work in banking and international finance and the School was the perfect stepping stone into this world. I don’t think I would be who I am and where I am without LSE – my dreams came true, with my experience here playing a major role in that. When I look back at my education, it is LSE that stands out. It was just a one year master’s degree but if I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d come here as an 18 year old too. Beyond my education, the international community I was able to become a part of was greatly beneficial, coming from a very regional country like Austria.
What are your abiding memories of your time studying at the School?
Bearing in mind that this was before the explosion of the internet, the idea of a global village was merely a vision that I thought didn’t really exist. Except when I came from Austria to LSE I found the global village right here, with people from all continents and countries. I immediately felt a very strong sense of belonging. It’s this internationality and global connection through meeting such an interesting range of people from the most varied walks of life that still resonates the most.
I also recall the quirkiness of our ‘rinky-dink’ campus. This has of course dissipated with significant investment in LSE’s facilities – returning now I marvel at the Library, the New Academic Building, and the Student Centre.
I’m interested in how the Centre Buildings will impact on Houghton Street, too. These are fantastic facilities, although I must admit to still getting lost down the little roads of campus… that hasn’t changed in over 20 years.
How important are institutions like LSE in the current political climate?
I believe we are seeing a lot of irrationality in collective decision making and a lot of polarisation in many democracies – and many undemocratic countries for that matter. I think excellent, well respected academic institutions like LSE have a special role to play, lending a voice of reason and rationality that will be heard – whether they are economic, social or scientific arguments. It is important for this voice to be heard by both the public at large and policymakers – of course the behaviour of the latter is often a consequence of the voting behaviour of the former.
Finally, you returned to campus last year to speak at our graduation ceremonies. Did you enjoy the occasion?
It was a great honour – and an opportunity for me to experience the occasion for the first time here, as I actually missed my own graduation ceremony! I’d love to do it again, to be honest – it was a wonderful experience.
I believe LSE has a fantastic alumni network which has not yet been leveraged to its maximum potential. Whether we are raising funds, supporting projects, finding jobs for graduates, creating business opportunities, or simply reminiscing about the old times, alumni can do so much – for the School and for each other. For example I make philanthropic donations, but I can also speak to other alumni and encourage them to do likewise.