Campus & Community

HBS receives $32 million from media pioneer

5 min read
Frank Batten

Frank Batten, a member of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Class of 1952 and a visionary entrepreneur and business leader who built Norfolk, Va.-based Landmark Communications, Inc., into a multimedia enterprise consisting of dozens of newspapers and specialty publications, several television stations, and The Weather Channel, has donated $32 million to the School.

The gift, part of a capital campaign that aims to raise $500 million by 2005, will be used to support the ongoing renewal and enhancement of HBS’s residential campus, which since its opening in 1927 has been designed to create a unique environment where living and educational experiences are mutually reinforcing.

“Frank Batten’s extraordinary generosity focuses on one of the most distinctive and important features of Harvard Business School,” said Dean Kim B. Clark, “a residential setting where MBA students, doctoral students, and executive education participants learn both inside and outside the classroom, where they immerse themselves in academic and extracurricular activities, and where they have constant interaction with their professors, classmates, and others on our campus. The result is a truly transformational experience that makes an HBS education the sum of many parts. With this wonderful gift, Frank Batten has ensured that this very special model of living and learning will continue into the future, as we renew the facilities on this campus and look toward future opportunities with our neighbors. Appropriately, one of the drives that connects us to the Allston-Brighton section of Boston will be called Batten Way, and we will also name a building in his honor at a future date. We are forever grateful for what he has done for this School.”

“Frank Batten’s remarkable career as an entrepreneur, chief executive, and philanthropist is inspirational,” said Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers. “Through his extremely generous gift, he has set an example for others in supporting higher education and acknowledging its importance for the future.”

Born in Norfolk, Va. in 1927, Batten began his newspaper career at the age of 16, when he worked as a copyboy for the Virginian-Pilot, the daily newspaper owned by an uncle who had raised him when his father died while he was still an infant. After serving in the Merchant Marine near the end of World War II, graduating from the University of Virginia and from Harvard Business School, Batten returned to his uncle’s business, which by then included both the Virginian-Pilot and Ledger-Dispatch, as a reporter and ad salesman. Appointed publisher two years later, at the age of 27, Batten began to make his mark on both the business and the community. He made ethical, careful reporting a top priority, took a strong stance in favor of school desegregation, and encouraged civic involvement among his employees.

With the newspapers on a firm foundation, in 1964 Batten looked toward diversification and became a pioneer in the cable television business by purchasing a small operation in rural North Carolina. During the next few decades, he built and bought dozens more cable operations across the country before selling them in 1994 for more than a billion dollars. Further investments followed in the realms of newspapers and television – acquisitions he combined under the corporate name of Landmark in 1967.

In 1982, Batten ventured into uncharted territory when he launched The Weather Channel. A network dedicated to weather reports got its start amid considerable skepticism from industry experts. For the first five years, the numbers didn’t prove them wrong. The network was losing huge amounts of money, and there was even concern that Landmark could lose its entire $31 million investment. But Batten, who continued to believe in the product and the technology, persevered until advertisers and viewers caught on. Today, the network is a staple for millions of cable subscribers in all 50 states. In 2002, Batten chronicled this venture in a book, “The Weather Channel: The Improbable Rise of A Media Phenomenon” (co-authored by Jeffrey L. Cruikshank; Harvard Business School Press).

Batten headed Landmark Communications for 44 years and was chairman of the Associated Press from 1982 to 1987. In 1998, HBS presented him with its highest honor, the Alumni Achievement Award. “You have reached the pinnacle of your profession,” said the accompanying citation. “Your life is a landmark to admirers of courage and conviction.” He also holds honorary degrees from the College of William & Mary, Washington and Lee University, Virginia Wesleyan College, and Old Dominion University.

Batten has had a longstanding interest in education, especially in his home state, where he was a board member of the Virginia Council of Higher Education and established a program to help public high school students find resources for college. He has also been a major contributor to Old Dominion University and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

Batten’s gift to HBS follows in a tradition that began with George Fisher Baker, a New York City banker who gave the School $5 million in 1924 to establish a residential campus on the Boston side of the Charles River. From that time on, the campus has been an integral part of the School’s learning model, which is based on the case method, an interactive system where “every student teaches and every teacher learns.” In the early 1950s, a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr., made possible Aldrich Hall, a classroom building designed specifically for this approach. Hawes Hall, a new classroom building made possible by a campaign gift from Rodney (MBA ’69) and Beverly Hawes, has added technology that brings HBS classrooms to the world and the world to the HBS campus. Outside of class, students, faculty, and staff now gather throughout the day and evening in the Spangler Center, a gift of C.D. (Dick) Spangler (MBA ’56) and his family that helped launch the capital campaign several years ago.

“The success of Harvard Business School as an institution depends not only on our faculty and staff, students, and alumni,” concludes Clark, “but on the environment that graduates like Frank Batten have enabled us to create. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the School’s founding in 1908, this gift marks a true milestone.”