$5M Gift Supports Oberlin Business Programs and Curriculum

Newly established fund, made possible by Alan ’55 and Irene Wurtzel, encourages additional support to Oberlin.

January 12, 2024

Office of Communications

A student speaks to a man at a business event
The Alan L. ’55 and Irene R. Wurtzel Endowed Fund for Business Education will provide the support necessary to enhance business education at Oberlin.
Photo credit: Lorenzo Ciniglio

Alan L. Wurtzel has spent his entire career helping businesses thrive. Under his leadership of Circuit City, including a 14-year tenure as CEO, the consumer electronics and appliances retailer grew into a top-performing Fortune 500 company. Wurtzel also has been an active investor in startups and served on the boards of multiple public and private companies, including Office Depot. 

Now future generations of Oberlin business leaders will be able to follow in Wurtzel’s footsteps, thanks to a transformative gift made by the 1955 Oberlin graduate and his wife, Irene. The Wurtzels have committed $5 million to establish the Alan L. ’55 and Irene R. Wurtzel Endowed Fund for Business Education, which will provide the support necessary to enhance business education at Oberlin. The $5 million gift is contingent on raising an additional $5 million, as the goal is to encourage other donors to support an expanded business program at Oberlin.

“We are excited and deeply grateful for this gift,” says Associate Professor of Business Eric Lin. “In addition to academic excellence, Oberlin has deep strengths in creative domains and social change. We want to build a program that complements these long-standing traditions and integrates well with the college and conservatory. And we want to introduce opportunities to build new capabilities. With this generous support, we’ll be able to do all these things—and build a world-class business program that prepares our students to make an outsized impact on the world.”

Alan 55 and Irene Wurtzel

Currently, Oberlin’s integrative concentration in business covers foundational areas including accounting, economics, management, and ethics, as well as emerging fields such as social entrepreneurship, sustainability, and technology. 

The Wurtzel Endowed Fund will allow Oberlin to expand the curriculum, inclusive of business and nonprofit organizations, and provide internships, mentoring, and experiential learning. The fund will also support the Ashby Business Scholars, a selective experiential learning opportunity for Oberlin students that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Additionally, the fund will support salaries and benefits for faculty and staff and bring business leaders and short-term faculty to campus.

An honorary Oberlin trustee, Alan Wurtzel is widely recognized as a highly engaged, fiercely loyal, generous, and inspiring member of the Oberlin community.

“In this day and age, a college education costs in excess of a quarter of a million dollars,” he says. “Parents and students need assurance that when they graduate, they can get a job, repay any debts, and support a reasonable lifestyle. Hopefully, this gift and the matches it inspires will enable Oberlin to attract a wider group of students and equip them to find meaningful employment.”

In 2024, Oberlin will create an ad hoc advisory committee of internal and external representatives to advise on the business program and focus on raising funds for the $5 million match. The committee will also be a resource for students in internships, shadowing opportunities, and mentoring.

About Alan and Irene Wurtzel

After earning a degree in government from Oberlin, Wurtzel worked as a law clerk for Chief Judge David L. Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., before becoming an associate of a Washington law firm and then serving as the legislative assistant to Senator Joseph Tydings. 

Circuit City was founded in 1949 in Richmond, Virginia, by Alan’s father, Sam Wurtzel, as a single store with only $13,000 in investment. Alan joined the business in 1966 as vice president for legal affairs, launching a 35-year career with the company that found him serving as CEO and chair of the board. In that time, Circuit City grew from $50 million to $12 billion in revenue; additionally, the company was celebrated as having one of the best-performing stocks on the New York Stock Exchange for decades and was featured in Jim Collins’ 2001 book Good to Great. Alan also served as a director of Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., and served on the board of Office Depot from 1989 to 1996. In 2012, he published the book Good to Great to Gone: The 60-Year Rise and Fall of Circuit City, which chronicles the company’s history. 

Irene R. Wurtzel is an award-winning playwright and community activist. Her musical Onward Victoria, about the first woman to run for U.S. president, appeared on Broadway and off-Broadway. In 2018, Oberlin opened the Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater in the Eric Baker Nord Performing Arts Annex. Made possible by the Wurtzels’ generosity, the highly adaptable, 45,000 square-foot space accommodates up to 300 guests for performances by Oberlin’s dance, theater, and vocal studies programs.

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