Global business leader and generous philanthropist Jerome (Jerry) A. Chazen, who founded the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for Global Business at Columbia Business School in 1991, passed away on Sunday, February 6, 2022 at the age of 94.
A self-made businessman who prided himself in “breaking all the rules,” Chazen rose to the highest levels of success in the business world. He began his career on Wall Street before becoming a pioneer in retailing, most notably as a cofounder of the Liz Claiborne Company. Less than a decade after the company was established in 1976, Liz Claiborne had more than $1 billion in sales and was listed on the Fortune 500. The New York Times called him “the architect of the company’s spectacular growth.” Among the innovations he spearheaded was insisting that clothing separates – blouses, pants, skirts, etc. – be hung in the same area of the store rather than, as was the practice at the time, in different departments. He also helped popularize pants as a mode of dress for working women at a time when dresses were customary garb.
It was in manufacturing, however, that he made his biggest mark. “When we founded Liz Claiborne, it became rapidly obvious we would not find sufficient factory space in this country to make garments at the price and quality we needed,” Chazen said. His suggestion that the company outsource to factories overseas horrified Ms. Claiborne. “We can't even manage our plants in New Jersey,” he recalls she said. Undaunted, he began outsourcing to Hong Kong, and within a year, all the company's clothes were made overseas. Thereafter, Liz Claiborne became a global fashion powerhouse and was described by Fortune as one of the 10 best managed corporations in the world, with record sales and earnings in a difficult, competitive environment.
In addition to his profound impact across industries, Chazen was a stalwart supporter of Columbia Business School and its mission. A 1950 graduate of Columbia Business School, he founded the Chazen Institute for Global Business because, he felt, “every student that graduates from Columbia Business School should understand international trade and the fact that this is a global economy.”
“Jerry’s focus on globalization’s opportunities and challenges put Columbia Business School on the map in leading critical business and policy conversations,” said Glenn Hubbard, director of the Chazen Institute and dean emeritus of Columbia Business School.
Chazen also provided invaluable guidance through his role as co-chair of the Institute’s Global Advisory Board, as well as the advisory boards for the ECLA program, the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center, and the Lang Fund. He was chairman emeritus and one of the longest-serving members of the Columbia Business School Board with 32 years of service, and also served as a trustee of Columbia University.
“Jerry's generosity touched thousands of students, and he inspired us all with his business acumen, broad vision, and warm humor. We will forever be grateful for his presence in our lives and remarkable legacy,” said Costis Maglaras, dean and David and Lyn Silfen Professor of Business at Columbia Business School.
Over the years, the Institute has engaged generations of MBA students in Global Immersion Programs, in which students meet for half a term to study business practices in another country and then visit the country to meet with business executives and government officials. The Institute also offers language classes, supports faculty and PhD research and case studies on global business and economic issues, and organizes forums in which the world’s top leaders and thinkers share perspectives on the forces shaping the global marketplace. Additional significant initiatives for students and the public include Global Study Tours, MBA Exchange, and Chazen Global Insights, the Institute’s digital thought leadership platform.
“Jerry was famous for being early to see the global potential of business,” said Lulu Chow Wang ’83, co-chair of the Institute’s Global Advisory Board and member of the Columbia Business School Board. “What made Jerry different was that he understood the math of taking a business global, but more importantly, he understood the human aspect of doing so. He was so successful because he understood and respected the people he worked with, in whatever country they were. In turn, they and everyone else in Jerry’s life trusted, respected, and loved him. We have all learned so much from his example – about business and about being a wonderful human being.”
Chazen’s generosity of spirit extended far beyond his support of Columbia Business School and the University. Throughout his lifetime, he volunteered his time and talent with many non-profits and institutions, including the University of Wisconsin Foundation, the Museum of Arts and Design, the 92nd Street Y, the Partnership for New York City, the National Jewish Center of Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, and the Louis Armstrong House Museum.
Chazen was married to his wife, Simona, of 72 years, with whom he shared a mutual love of art and jazz. He is survived by his wife, three children including David, a 1986 graduate of Columbia Business School and member of the Institute’s Global Advisory Board, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.