Jägermeister master donates $20 million

62 years after he should have graduated, Frank makes his place at Brown

Monday, August 30, 2004

A $20 million donation from a man who spent one year at Brown and made Jägermeister a household name has set in motion the first phase of the University’s decade-long physical expansion plan.

The gift allows planning to begin on a $30 million academic building that will house the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, the Brain Science Program’s administrative offices, a 350-seat auditorium and classrooms. Sidney E. Frank Hall will also anchor a landscaped north-south pathway connecting the Pembroke campus to Lincoln Field, dubbed “The Walk.”

The University will probably spend two years planning the project, begin construction in summer 2006 and finish in 2008. It is possible that members of the Class of 2008 will see the building’s completion before graduating, said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to President Ruth Simmons.

The Corporation approved Sidney Frank’s $20 million contribution – the largest gift for a building in University history – at its May 29 meeting. Frank, 84, said he feels strongly about the University and wants to continue his philanthropy.

“I’m going to do more for Brown in the future,” Frank said. “I’m contemplating a very large gift that I’ve discussed with President Simmons.” That gift is not finalized, he said, but it would fund scholarships for students unable to afford tuition otherwise.

Frank, who entered Brown as a member of the Class of 1942 but dropped out a year later due to low funds and low grades, used his marketing savvy to build a liquor-importing empire based on brands such as Jägermeister liqueur and Grey Goose vodka.

“There are a lot of people who have been successful without a lot of time at college – I’m one of them,” Frank said. “I’m going to be a billionaire,” he added.

But in 1999, Sidney Frank Importing agreed to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by paying $2.6 million to 104 women, some of whom worked as promotional models known as Jägerettes. Frank and his company did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

An academic nexus

Frank Hall will lie immediately to the west of the Brown Office Building and bookstore, bounded by Olive and Angell streets to the north and south. The site is currently occupied by a Shell gas station; Brown owns the property, and the station’s lease expires in 2006.

If the University decides to put the new building’s construction on the fast track, it might work out a deal with the Shell station’s owner to demolish that facility earlier than scheduled, Spies said.

The Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences was originally slated to move into the Life Sciences Building, but that idea was scrapped as the building was downsized and more biology labs were added to the blueprints.

Since its inception in 1986, the program has called the Metcalf Chemistry building its home – a building that “just needs to be thoroughly renovated,” Bill Warren, professor and chair of cognitive and linguistic sciences, said. “The labs are kind of crumbling.”

Despite minor renovations last summer, Metcalf “is a disaster right now,” Spies said.

Frank Hall will give the cognitive and linguistic sciences department proximity to the forthcoming Life Sciences Building, along with new labs and space for additional faculty.

The department has hired Tom Griffiths from Stanford University as a new assistant professor and plans a search for a professor of cognitive neuroscience this year, Warren said.

“We’re delighted to move,” Warren said. “We’re … really pleased with being one of the first buildings on (The) Walk.”

A “third campus”

Frank Hall will not be solely an academic building. “One of the design principles we’re trying to incorporate … is that the ground floors (of buildings along The Walk) are shared spaces,” said Frances Halsband, the architect who designed the University’s master plan. Like other future buildings along the pathway, Frank Hall’s entrances will open to both The Walk and exterior streets, bringing together the campus and outside community, she added.

The building will look out onto an oval-shaped green space, the centerpiece of The Walk. The landscaping and utility renovations required to create The Walk will cost $30 million, Spies said.

To make room for the oval area, the Peter Green House will be moved to the western edge of the block, adding to the residential feel of Brown Street, Spies added. The Department of History currently occupies that house.

“The key idea” of The Walk is that “filling in the gaps between the old Brown campus and Pembroke is an opportunity to build a third campus, in a way,” Halsband said.

The direct route between the Pembroke campus and Lincoln Field, running between Brown and Thayer streets, previously snaked pedestrians through parking lots and past dumpsters. Currently, even that route is blocked because of construction on the Life Sciences Building, scheduled for completion in the spring of 2006. Given the adjacent timetable for the construction of Frank Hall, Spies said it is possible there will be no direct route between Pembroke and Lincoln Field for the next four years, though he said the University would like to avoid that scenario.

But when the University achieves the goals in its Strategic Framework for Physical Planning, alleyways will be replaced with green spaces framed by at least three new buildings, one of which is Frank Hall. “When we made those drawings, we had no idea which buildings would come first,” Halsband said.

College Hill residents had the chance to put in their two cents at a June 24 meeting hosted by Spies, who described an institution that began with University Hall in 1770 and has grown exponentially ever since, doubling in size every 35 to 40 years.

“Is there no end to this?” Ronald Dwight ’66 asked at the meeting. Dwight, a College Hill resident, was an outspoken opponent of the Life Sciences Building’s construction.

Only in recent decades has urban congestion forced the University to rethink its expansion strategies. Halsband has determined that Brown can add up to 1 million square feet of floor space within the existing campus boundaries, and Frank Hall represents the first major initiative to claim some of that capacity, Spies told The Herald.

Frank Hall will be a five-story, approximately 60,000 square-foot structure, according to the Brown News Service.

At the June meeting with neighborhood residents, many audience members said they were concerned that The Walk would lead to new traffic and parking problems, especially since students would cross up to four streets on their way from Lincoln Field to Pembroke. One man suggested that Harvard and Yale universities “wouldn’t ram the students across the street and watch the cars back up.

“Aren’t you capable of something better than that?” he asked.

But Spies rejected the notion of sub-par planning. A traffic consultant engaged by the University concluded it “could resolve the pedestrian-car conflict without bridges, tunnels or more traffic lights,” Spies said. In fact, he told residents, The Walk will create a more organized pattern of pedestrian crossings.

“Our experience on other campuses is that bridges that were built are being torn down because people want to be on the street with other people,” Halsband said in an interview.

Some College Hill residents said they were disappointed that the University did not seek more input from its neighbors before moving ahead with its construction plans. “Is this a fait accompli?” Dwight asked. “Why are we here? We will have no input into this, will we?”

But Spies said the University gave the College Hill community “significant” opportunities for input. And a Thayer Street businesswoman said she appreciated the effort. “Reaching out is what makes the difference,” she said. “I want to compliment you for finally responding to the needs of the community,” she added.

Ed Bishop ’54 P’86, P’91 said he thought the University’s construction plans had “been well thought out.” Bishop, who lives on Waterman Street, said he imagined Brown could recapture even more space by making use of unused property it already owns.

Decisions remain

Many of the details of Frank Hall and The Walk have not been finalized. An architect for the building has not been selected – Spies said the pick will probably be made this fall.

Spies said he did not know whether Frank Hall would be envisioned with a traditional attitude or with, perhaps, more out-of-the-box thinking.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently opened its new Stata Center, a “whimsical” building with broad, open spaces and no interior grid, according to the New York Times. The building is home to MIT Professor of Linguistics Noam Chomsky, among others.

Warren said the design of Frank Hall probably wouldn’t go that far. Still, “it may be that we would design some spaces that would be open,” he said.

It is also not known whether the University will seek the permanent closure of Olive Street, which runs between the sites of the Life Sciences Building and Frank Hall. Spies said Brown would “probably” like to do so, but he added, “We are sure we can make the basic plan work regardless.”

And the University still has not decided where it will eventually establish a campus center. From an initial list of 12 possible sites, planners have narrowed the choice to two – the Metcalf complex or a new building across The Walk from Churchill House.

“There’s a lot of sentiment for Metcalf,” Spies said, though he said the University is still considering both options. But putting the center in Metcalf would facilitate the use of a building “that’s clearly outlived its usefulness for (its current) purposes,” Spies added.

“I would love to see it in Metcalf,” Halsband said. “For me, a student life center benefits from being in a building that has a history,” she added.

Analysts have not yet determined whether transforming the collection of buildings that make up the Metcalf complex into a campus center is feasible, Spies said. But if a donor emerges and the University does decide to proceed with the conversion, it would not necessarily have to wait until the cognitive and linguistic sciences department moves out in 2008, he said.

“Hopefully we’ll have that problem,” Spies said.

A “marketing genius”

Frank first came to Brown because, he said, “I always wanted to go to an Ivy League school.” To fund his attendance, he worked at his father’s apple orchard, waited tables and hauled lumber 12 hours a day for 50 cents an hour.

He managed to save $1,000, enough for tuition and board for one year at the University. Frank said the director of admission told him, “You’re a borderline case, but I’m going to accept you, because you have a strong handshake.”

But with his funds running low and his grades also below par, Frank dropped out after just one year at Brown.

Despite that, the University helped Frank land his first job after his single year at college. The man in charge of hiring at Pratt & Whitney Motors rejected applicant after applicant, Frank said, until he noticed Frank had attended Brown – so had he. “So I owe that to Brown,” Frank said. “Brown people like to help each other.”

During World War II, Pratt & Whitney trained Frank in engineering and sent him to India and China. Frank said he used his troubleshooting skills to figure out why engines kept cutting out on a fleet of planes. But on a “harrowing trip” to test the fixed aircraft, a Japanese fighter tailed the flight, he said.

“Though I was just a kid from a farm in (Norwich, Conn.), that one year at Brown gave me the courage to compete and the ability to succeed in my first job at Pratt & Whitney and beyond,” Frank told the Brown News Service.

And Frank met his wife through his best friend at Brown. Upon his return from India, his future father-in-law put him in charge of a program using alcohol in motor fuel.

Frank said his father-in-law fired him, rehired him and fired him again before he set out on his own in 1972, founding Sidney Frank Importing. Five years later, he said, he began work on his company’s first flagship brand, Jägermeister.

He began importing the liqueur from Germany, but he said he did not spend a penny on advertising – he spent only on marketing. Frank invented the Jägermeister tap machine, which chills the drink and pours it at just a few degrees above zero. “I have a patent on it in my name – so I’m an inventor,” he said proudly.

Frank said he also came up with the idea for “Jägerettes – beautiful women that would work part time for maybe $20 an hour.” The models would make appearances at bars and raffle off Jägermeister prizes.

And in 1985, an article in the Baton Rouge Advocate called Jägermeister “Liquid Valium.”

“Sales zoomed after that,” Frank said. “That’s marketing. If you get a break, you have to know what to do with it.”

In 1985, Jägermeister sold 55,000 cases in the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2000, it sold 530,000 cases.

“They call me a marketing genius,” Frank said. “I’ve taken brands with no advertising and built them up to the leader in the area.”

Frank said he invented his own vodka, Grey Goose, at age 75, and even designed the bottle himself. He sold 100,000 cases in 1999 – and 1 million cases in 2002, according to the Journal. That has sent competitors scrambling to compete in the growing “superpremium” liquor market, the paper reported.

In May 1997, the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Sidney Frank Importing.

Some of the women represented in the suit worked as Jägerettes. They alleged they were subjected to “unwelcome verbal and physical harassment including … hugging, kissing, licking and grabbing of breasts and buttocks” by bar owners and patrons when they worked at promotional events, according to the New York Daily News.

Frank said the EEOC charged that his company did not provide sufficient protection for the Jägerettes and demanded he supply each with a bodyguard at events. “Ever hear of something so ridiculous?” he asked.

The EEOC complaint also charged that some of his female employees were subjected to similar harassment from Frank himself, the Daily News reported. It also alleged Frank would offer clothing, trips and job opportunities to win sexual favors.

Frank said at some events, “they’d have 10 Jägerettes to meet me. Each one would give me a big hug. But I never did anything that I wouldn’t want someone to do to my daughter.” One Jägerette in the suit “made up a lot of stories,” he added.

Frank said the settlement came as the EEOC tried to settle a number of open cases. “We never admitted we were guilty,” he said. The settlement was intended “to get them off our backs,” he added.

The EEOC said the $2.6 million settlement was the largest of its kind ever arranged in the state of New York, the New York Times reported.

Frank was not pleased about the EEOC’s practices. “Congress has given them the authority to go into your office, open your files without a court order,” he told The Herald.

Writing in the Providence Journal, Brent Lang ’04 questioned the University’s decision to name a building after Frank in light of the lawsuit.

But Spies said he personally had no objection to the idea. “I believe that the primary test is the use to which the funds will be put,” he said.

“I don’t buy the argument that we shouldn’t accept money from someone as a judgment of his company,” Spies added.

“It’s a naïve approach to say that there is clean money,” Simmons told The Herald in 2002. “Should we dismiss you as a student if we determine that the money with which your tuition was paid was inappropriate?”

Frank is not the first donor to Brown with a questionable record.

Gary Winnick, former chairman of telecommunications firm Global Crossing, was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for knowingly overstating Global Crossing’s projected profits while selling his own shares in the company. Winnick and his wife, Karen, had given at least $149,000 to the University in 2002. Karen Winnick is a member of the Corporation.

And A. Alfred Taubman, for whom Brown’s Taubman Center for Public Policy is named, spent time in jail for his role in a price-fixing scheme while he was chairman of the auction house Southeby’s.

Frank said he does not deserve to be lumped into the same category as Taubman and other corporate criminals. “I wasn’t found guilty,” he said.

“They didn’t prove I was guilty or innocent. They just accepted the money. And they got headlines that they got a big payoff.”

At first, Frank said, he was not willing to give Brown as big a payoff as he did. When Ronald Vanden Dorpel GS ’71, senior vice president for University advancement, first visited Frank – “as he does to anybody that’s got money” – Frank offered only $1 million.

But Vanden Dorpel, whom Frank called “a good salesman,” persisted and eventually won the donation.

Frank said he has not been to the campus lately but plans to visit. But, he said, part of the campus came to him after his gift.

“President Simmons came down with most of the directors and gave me my honorary diploma,” he said. “Most students take four years to earn their diplomas – it took me three hours!”

Herald staff writer Jonathan Ellis ’06 can be reached at jellis@browndailyherald.com.