Opening Doors: Gannaway family endows Business Fellows Scholarship

Love School of Business board member and its first Executive in Residence makes gift aimed at helping students and academics at Elon

Michael and Susan Gannaway first started to learn about Elon University when their son Thomas began looking at colleges in 1996. The family liked what they saw and became more impressed upon joining the Parents Council in 1998 after Thomas enrolled.

Mike and Sue Gannaway
“The more I got to know this place the more I could see that something really, really important is going on here,” Mike says today from his office in the Koury Business Center at Elon. He’s currently serving at the Executive in Residence for the Love School of Business, is a member of the school’s Board of Advisors and he serves on the Advisory Board for the Chandler Family Professional Sales Center. “I wanted to help.”

Mike, a retired corporate executive, and wife Sue are now making an even more profound impact on Elon students in the Love School of Business through a generous major gift establishing the Gannaway Family Business Fellows Scholarship. Mike says he was inspired to create a Business Fellows Scholarship after hearing a talk by Elon University President Leo M. Lambert.

“I heard President Lambert speak and he talked about the impact of Fellows Scholars. The Fellows program elevates the academic experience on campus. Fellows are the best and the brightest. They elevate the classroom experience, they elevate the professors,” Mike recalls. “That rang completely true with me.”

Through this kind of philanthropic support for academics and scholarships, Mike hopes to lure the top students in the nation to Elon.

The Gannaways believe endowment support for Business Fellows is a path to accomplish that goal. Students accepted into the Business Fellows program are among the university’s highest achievers. Specifically, they represent critical traits for success in business: They are smart, team-oriented, problem-solvers who are focused on getting results. Through a combination of distinctive Fellows courses and opportunities for global engagement and interaction with seasoned professionals, Business Fellows gain the knowledge and experience demanded by today’s employers.

Those are also qualities Michael emphasizes to students in his role as Executive in Residence at the highly regarded Love School of Business, which enjoys a top-50 ranking by Bloomberg Businessweek.

MIKE GANNAWAY began planning his post-corporate life as early as 2006. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, and an honors graduate and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in sociology from the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, he approached then-Love School of Business Dean John Burbridge almost a decade before he retired from VF Corp.

“As far back as 2006 I started talking to the dean about how I could get involved with the university as a business guy to help students succeed,” Gannaway recalls. “We started talking about an Executive in Residence. Other schools have Executive in Residence programs and I learned more about them during the search committee work that recruited Dean Raghu Tadepalli”

Gannaway believed his real-world experience in private business would serve Elon and its students perfectly as he shifted into a role of mentor and career advisor. He spent his first 20 professional years in retail and cosmetics, including stops as an executive with Estee Lauder, Inc. and Revlon. Along the way he moved from Minneapolis to Chicago, New Jersey and New York. In 1993 he and Sue moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he joined Hanes Brands/Sara Lee. In 2004, Gannaway joined VF Corp. where he was the vice president of VF Direct/Customer Teams and led initiatives to build enterprise-wide business and strategies with key retail partners and build the branded direct to consumer capabilities and businesses.

He retired from VF Corp. in 2015. Upon retirement, he became Elon’s first Executive in Residence. He was joined a few months later by Eileen Claussen.

“I decided I wanted to be a part of the university. I wanted to work in this environment and help students,” Mike says. “I wanted to reinforce with real-world experiences what they do in the classroom.

“I wanted to give something back, if you will,” he adds.

GANNAWAY SAYS he enjoys the campus climate at Elon and working with students, something he believes keeps him relevant. “I love being around young people. I love the energy they bring,” he adds.

He works with students individually to talk about career goals and pathways to success. A board on one wall in his office outlines steps students can take toward landing a job after graduation. He calls it “working the process” and guarantees success. Gannaway says he also meets with small groups or clubs and often appears as a guest lecturer at the invitation of professors. As an example he references a lecture in a Business Law and Ethics class about international business. “I use my experiences at VF Corporation and use brand stories about how we went into Europe or how we opened up China,” he says.

“It reinforces what they see in their books. It reinforces what the professors do,” he says.

The Gannaway Family Business Fellows Scholarship is part of this ongoing contribution and commitment to Elon and the Love School of Business. Gannaway says he joined the Board of Advisors in 2007 and has watched the Love School of Business flourish. He believes helping to bring the best students to Elon is a critical step. Support for endowed scholarships such as Business Fellows plays a key role.

The Business Fellows program places students on a fast track to excel in today’s highly competitive business environment. Ninety-six percent of all Elon Business Fellows secure employment or admission to graduate school before they graduate. Recent graduates have landed jobs with Deloitte, BlackRock, Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Red Ventures, Oracle, Wells Fargo, Fox Sports, GE, Warner Brothers, and The Kraft Heinz Co. among others.

Major gifts such as the Gannaway Family Business Fellows Scholarship make a difference in achieving this kind of success.

“I think Elon is a great university. I wanted to help Elon get the best students in the country here to elevate the academic experience at Elon, elevate all of us,” Mike says. “I’m trying to help the Love School of Business be the best it can.”

The “Opening Doors” story series celebrates the power of scholarships to change the lives of Elon students and the generosity of donors who make this transformation possible.