Cheri Phyfer’s experience with Clemson began as many do – on a college tour with her family as her older sister visited schools. Two years later, when her turn came to begin the college search, one more visit to Clemson was all she needed to know she had found her home.
Ben’s experience was slightly different. At the beginning of his relationship with Cheri, his allegiance lay with the University of Tennessee’s version of orange and the Tigers from the University of Missouri. Before too long though, as they each pursued careers in business, their passions perfectly aligned in the realm of business education, and they chose to channel that common interest to benefit Clemson.
The Phyfers are no stranger to philanthropy, having previously given to Clemson’s Women’s Leadership Institute, the College of Business Dean’s Excellence Fund, the WestZone project and multiple scholarships, but their most recent gift stands to make a significant impact on Clemson’s future. In the fall of 2018, the Phyfers gave $2.5 million to the College of Business, naming the Phyfer Auditorium in the new College of Business building, naming the Phyfer Innovation Hub at Greenville ONE and providing funds for university-wide scholarships. This significant gift distinguished them as Clemson’s youngest Cornerstone Partners.
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“We’ve been considering a gift for some time now and were looking for the right opportunity, and the leadership and energy on campus right now is so inspiring,” Ben said. “We both have business backgrounds and careers, and the effort behind the business school right now is something that really attracted us to make this gift.”
“As Clemson has world-class facilities, it will attract the best faculty and students and everything on Clemson’s campus will rise,” Cheri added.
As a successful Clemson alumna, Cheri is a great example for Clemson students, demonstrating those rising possibilities that will continue to be available as Clemson moves forward. Cheri graduated from Clemson with a degree in management in 1993 and a Master of Business Administration degree in 1999. She began her career at Sherwin-Williams after graduating, eventually becoming president and general manager of the Consumer Brands division. In 2018, she transitioned to Fortune Brands Global Plumbing Group as president of Moen U.S.
Ben’s leadership in business is equally inspiring to Clemson students who will benefit from the Phyfers’ gift. Ben earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration from Westminster College and his MBA from the University of Tennessee, and he now works as a real estate investor and developer. He has built properties in both Atlanta, Georgia, and Cleveland, Ohio, with 700 Lake in Ohio being his largest project so far.
Though Ben and Cheri give generously of their resources and their time, serving on the MBA executive board and the Board of Trustees respectively, philanthropy is not a value they reserve only for Clemson. When they are at home in the Cleveland area with their two daughters, Allison (10) and Danielle (8), philanthropy is an important part of their family rhythm as well.
“When I was five and Dani was three, we went to the firehouse and baked cookies and gave them to the firemen,” Ali said, sharing ways that the Phyfers focus on giving back as a family.
“Another way is once we did a lemonade stand, and we donated the money to a dog shelter,” Dani added.
As the Phyfers have intentionally communicated the importance of philanthropy to their daughters, they have inevitably passed along some contagious Clemson enthusiasm as well. Both Ali and Dani hope to attend Clemson, and they enjoy tailgating, football games and seeing the Tiger mascot. Ali’s goal is to become a teacher, while Dani is still keeping her options open.
“I want to go to Clemson and I want to be an actor,” Dani shared, “but if I don’t get to be an actor, I want to be what my mom does.”
Cheri’s career success is certainly worth emulating, as is Ben’s, but perhaps even more so is the wisdom they have gained along the way, as well as their willingness to share it with those coming behind them.
“Don’t chase a paycheck,” Ben cautioned the business students who will benefit from their gifts. “I’ve done that and it hasn’t worked out so great, so you should do what you’re passionate about. The monetary gain will follow, but if you pursue your interests and your passion, you’ll end up in the right place in the end anyways.”
Cheri directed her encouragement to women in the business school who will pursue paths like hers. “Set your sights high and believe that you have everything it takes to achieve those sights,” she said. “We both really believe that once you have achieved success, whether it’s with your time or treasure, that you would lean back in and give to the next generation of students here at Clemson.”
Ben and Cheri have already taken their own advice by choosing to invest in the next generation, though their own daughters have years to go before they pursue higher education for themselves. As Clemson’s youngest Cornerstone Partners, the Phyfers set quite a precedent for the potential impact of philanthropy – no matter the age of the donor or the size of the gift.
“Things touch your heart and they become part of your life,” Cheri said. “Clemson is a part of my past, it is a part of both of our present, and with two young beautiful daughters who will hopefully attend Clemson later, it will be a part of our future.”
As their generous gifts and selfless spirits begin to form the Phyfer legacy at Clemson through buildings, programs and scholarships, the Phyfers have already become and will undoubtedly continue to be a key part of Clemson’s future as well.
If you would like to join the Phyfers in giving to Clemson, visit clemson.edu/giving.
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