According to an April 29, 1956 article: “The first efforts to establish a commerce school were made as early as 1858 when the board of regents took over a private school, Bacon’s commercial college in Madison.”
The University of Wisconsin’s business school had its proper start in 1900. Situated within the College of Arts and Science, it was known as the Commerce Program.
From its inception, the business school has made a proud tradition of innovation. The first chapter of the international business honor society Beta Gamma Sigma was founded at Wisconsin in 1913.
Through the early-mid-20th century, the Commerce Program experienced impressive growth and expansion. In 1935, the program became a free-standing department. Three years later, the Actuarial Science, Risk Management and Insurance program began-one of only two in the United States. In 1944, the School of Commerce was established; Fayette H. Elwelll became the school’s first dean. In short order, the newly established school approved MBA and Ph.D. programs in 1945 and 1947, respectively. The first MBA student graduated in 1946.
In the next decades the school continued to expand. In 1956, the School of Commerce finally acquired its own building. About ten years later, its name changed to the School of Business. The first graduate-level Arts Administration program in the U.S. was established there in 1969. The next year, the school launched the first Applied Security Analysis program offering students the opportunity to manage a substantial portfolio independently.
As its centennial approached, the school’s stewards looked to securing its legacy. Its growth had long since outstripped its facilities-donors began pledging funds for a new building. In the early 1990s, the new building Grainger Hall opened. The Executive MBA program launched the same year-and the Evening MBA followed about five years later. By 2000, our open enrollment and custom Executive Education programs called the newly built Fluno Center home.
The school continued pushing the envelope in the new century’s first decade. In 2003, alumni Signe Ostby and Intuit founder Scott Cook inaugurated the Center for Brand and Product Management to address the lack of MBAs graduating with first-rate brand management skills. It was the first university-based center in the country whose exclusive focus was brand and product management. The next year, the school revolutionized the full-time Wisconsin MBA by pioneering a new model for graduate business education based on highly-focused career specializations.
In 2007, a group of alumni formed the Wisconsin Naming Partnership, contributing $85 million to ensure the school’s name would remain Wisconsin School of Business for at least 20 years and secure the option of naming well into the future. That gift grew to more than $95 million in the following years. In 2008, alumnus and Cisco chairman emeritus John Morgridge helped launch the Wisconsin Entrepreneurial Bootcamp. The new $40.5 million east wing of Grainger Hall also opened in 2008.
The first year of the 2010s, the school’s leveraged the strengths of its specializations in two unique areas. The real estate program launched the Global Real Estate Master program with three of the world’s top business programs-HEC Paris, HKUST in Hong Kong, and INCAE in Costa Rica-to train global real estate leaders. The Wisconsin School of Business also rolled out business fundamental courses for non-majors in 2010.