Dr. Stephan Gohmann is director of the College of Business Center for Free Enterprise.

Since the fall of 2015, the Center for Free Enterprise in the College of Business has sponsored international speakers, book group discussions and other exciting learning opportunities for students, faculty, staff and members of the public.

Four years later, several generous donors stepped forward to help the center expand as it continues to explore the role of entrepreneurship in advancing the well-being of society.

Donations announced at the end of 2019 totaling more than $5.7 million will allow the center to add two tenure-track faculty members in entrepreneurship and up to five doctoral fellows, plus staff for the center. The center will also partner with the Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship to examine ideas related to free enterprise through the lens of principled entrepreneurship.

The donors are:

  • John Menard Jr., founder and owner of the Menards chain of home improvement stores, $3 million
  • Joseph W. Craft III Foundation, $2 million; 
  • Charles Koch Foundation, a founding donor continuing its support, $737,000.

“Our students benefit from the rich experiences the Center for Free Enterprise provides,” said UofL President Neeli Bendapudi. “We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to inspire our community’s future business leaders through these generous gifts.” 

Since the center began operations, it has hosted speakers on topics such as criminal justice reform, the transformation of China, crypto-currency and entrepreneurship in Senegal. Beginning in the Spring 2020 semester, the speaker series has been renamed the Menard Family Speaker Series.

“We will continue to reach a breadth of students, alumni and the public with our speaker series,” said Stephan Gohmann, director of the center. “Additionally, I’m excited the center is expanding into entrepreneurship, as many of our students are interested in starting businesses and innovating within their companies.”

The center also hosts reading groups that attract students from across the university.

Menards is a privately-owned and family-run home improvement business with 325 stores and 41 manufacturing facilities located in 14 Midwestern states. Read an open letter from the Menard Family here

Craft, a native of Hazard, Kentucky, and a graduate of the University of Kentucky, is president, CEO and chairman of Alliance Resource Partners LP, the second largest coal producer in the eastern United States.

The Charles Koch Foundation has funded over 400 programs at more than 250 U.S. colleges and universities. Its goal is to “break barriers that stand in the way of people realizing their potential through grant funding to scholars, students and partners developing creative solutions that empower individuals to transform their lives and to improve society.”

The Menard Family Speaker Series begins Jan. 30 with author James Otteson, Thomas W. Smith Presidential Chair in Business Ethics and economics professor at Wake Forest University. His talk will be, “Honorable Business: A Framework for Business in a Just and Humane Society.”

On Feb. 19, the center will present Clifton Taulbert, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated co-author of the book “Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur.”

The series closes April 8 with a panel discussion and debate on school choice featuring Corey DeAngelis, Cato Institute Center for Educational Freedom; Angela Dills, Western Carolina University; Peter Greene, The Progressive; and Helen Ladd, Duke University.

Check the Center’s website for times, locations and more information.