St. Thomas gets $5M gift for a new business school

Board chairman John Dooner, Gus Machado and the Rev. Monsignor Franklyn Casale (left to right).
Board chairman John Dooner, Gus Machado and the Rev. Monsignor Franklyn Casale (left to right). St. Thomas University.

St. Thomas University has received a $5 million donation — the largest single gift in the small Catholic university’s history — for the construction of a new business school.

Gus Machado, a former member of the university’s board of trustees, made the gift. The Cuban-born Machado owns Ford dealerships in Kendall and Hialeah.

The institution will be called the Gus Machado School of Business at St. Thomas University.

“It’s going to help young people,” Machado, 80, said in a phone interview. “You’re only here once in this life, and nobody’s going to take anything with them. Once you hit the clock, you’re gone.”

Jorge Rico, an alumnus and top executive at MBF Healthcare Partners, also donated $1 million for the 40,000-square-foot building, which will cost between $13 and $15 million to complete, university officials said. More fundraising is planned.

The university plans to house programs for global entrepreneurship, trade and logistics, cybersecurity management and sports administration in the new school, as well as a trading room with Bloomberg terminals, a student start-up business incubator and a communications and media lab.

St. Thomas, based in Miami Gardens, is often overlooked in South Florida’s bustling higher education scene. It has about 5,000 students, including its graduate and law programs.

“Sometimes you pick a girl and she’s not so pretty, but she’s nicer to dance with than all the pretty girls,” Machado said. He added that while St. Thomas was a lesser-known university, he wants to help it grow and achieve recognition.

“I hope they can teach a lot of young kids to climb the ladder of life,” Machado said.

Local architects Bermello Ajamil & Partners have been tapped to design the facility.

“This building allows us to move to the next level,” said the Rev. Monsignor Franklyn Casale, president of the university since 1994.

Groundbreaking will start by the end of 2015 or early 2016, and the building is scheduled to be ready for the incoming class of 2017.

Full accreditation from the American Association of Schools and Colleges of Business is expected shortly, Casale said.

“This is going to be a giant step forward for business education not just for St. Thomas, but for the local community,” said Somnath Bhattacharya, dean of the business school.

Bhattacharya said he is particularly excited that the gift will allow the school to focus on its cybersecurity and trade and logistics programs, launching at the undergraduate and graduate levels this fall.

“Local companies in those areas tell me that they have to go to Ohio State and Michigan to recruit,” Bhattacharya said. “There is a demand for those employees here, and we want to create a brain bank for South Florida.”

Within five years of the new building’s inauguration, the business school hopes to triple its enrollment to 1,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Bhattacharya said. He also hopes to expand the number of faculty members from 16 to about 25.

Miami Herald staff writer Michael Vasquez contributed to this report

Havana Roots

St. Thomas has an only-in-Miami founding story.

It likely wouldn’t exist without the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. The disastrous, CIA-backed venture provoked Fidel Castro into cracking down on the Universidad Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Havana, Cuba’s only Catholic university. Staff were arrested and the school shut down.

After a brief incarceration, many faculty members and administrators fled to South Florida where they started a new college with backing from the local Catholic archdiocese. Classes started in September of 1962. Originally called Biscayne College, it later became St. Thomas University.

The first graduating class had nine students.