As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, Tom Hillman opened a small stand selling imported cheese in the University City farmers market.
Three decades later, Hillman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in Arts & Sciences in 1978, is founder and managing partner of FTL Capital Partners and one of St. Louis’ most successful serial entrepreneurs with more than 30 businesses in his career portfolio.
“One of the hardest things in life, when we have accomplished nearly everything we’ve wanted in our careers, is figuring out how to move from success to significance,” Hillman said.
Hillman and his wife, Jennifer Miller Hillman, also a Washington University graduate and former owner of a sales promotion and advertising agency, worked out a successful resolution. They have directed their entrepreneurial spirit to help build a better future for the St. Louis region and beyond. The couple has made a substantial commitment to the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. The gift will support the expansion of social work, public health and public policy programs at the school.
A key component of that expansion is construction of a new building that will more than double the school’s space for teaching, research and community engagement. In appreciation of the Hillmans’ significant investment and commitment to the mission of the Brown School, the new building will be named Hillman Hall.
“The Hillmans’ extraordinary generosity and engagement will have a profound impact on the Brown School’s teaching and research, and will help its faculty, students and staff provide new and innovative ways to address critical social and public health challenges,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “Jennifer and Tom inspire and energize our community in meaningful and remarkable ways.”
Sustainability is at the core of the facilities expansion. The new building is targeted for LEED Platinum certification and is scheduled to open in summer 2015. It will feature the Brown School’s Policy Forum, a program designed to facilitate the best thinking and evidence to bear on policy issues through training students; convening legislators and community leaders, and partnering with media organizations to communicate policy ideas and analysis in innovative ways.
“To me, the Brown School represents the heart and soul of the university,” Jennifer Hillman said. “I am excited by the school’s initiatives and research projects aimed at improving people’s lives. When I think of the complex problems our society faces, I see those at the Brown School doing a significant amount to solve them.”
The Hillmans said they want to make room for the next generation to lead.
“Jennifer and I are very intentional with our giving,” Tom Hillman said. “It is important to us that we invest it wisely in our community, where it can do the greatest good. We believe that education represents the best means to making the strongest possible social impact. We believe in doing well by doing good.”
“We are thrilled with this investment in our school and are looking forward to this partnership with Tom and Jennifer Hillman,” said Edward F. Lawlor, PhD, dean of the Brown School and the William E. Gordon Distinguished Professor. “They are committed to our community, substantively interested in the work of the school, and have great passion and energy for creating social impact. Their leadership and commitment is a great match with the Brown School.”
About the Hillmans
Thomas Joel Hillman, a native New Yorker, and Jennifer Miller Hillman, who grew up in Dallas, attended Washington University at about the same time but did not know one another as college students. They met later, married and settled in St. Louis, where they raised their family while cultivating their careers.
As founder and managing partner of FTL Capital Partners, a private merchant banking company and strategic management consulting firm, Tom manages a portfolio containing a wide variety of businesses in areas including industrial manufacturing, medical devices, minerals manufacturing, low-income housing, tax credit sales and education technology.
Tom was a founder and director of Announce Media, a leading Internet firm that also owned Answers.com, an Internet-based knowledge exchange for which he was a founding investor. Answers.com recently was sold, and Announce Media has been renamed Gateway Media.
Jennifer Hillman earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic design from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts in 1979. She worked in sales promotion and advertising before she co-founded and served as creative director of Images and Ideas, a sales promotion, advertising and event planning agency. Over the past 13 years, she has helped develop and lead family initiatives for the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and the World Presidents Organization (WPO) locally, regionally and globally.
While this gift represents the Hillmans’ initial investment in the Brown School, the couple has provided generous financial support for other areas of the university. They have funded scholarships and established internships offered through the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where Tom Hillman serves on the national council.
The Hillmans also have provided funding for student internships at local startups and sponsored WUSTL student interns, whom Tom Hillman has taken an active role in mentoring. He has helped Olin Cup teams prepare for their investor pitches and has lectured in programs across the university.
Tom Hillman is a member of the university’s board of trustees and a director of Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation, Innovate St. Louis, and Healthpoint Capital LP. He serves Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University as vice-chair of the executive committee and as co-chair of the entrepreneurship committee.
Jennifer Hillman serves on the university’s National Council for the Undergraduate Experience.
The Hillmans are members of the Danforth Circle Chancellor’s Level at Washington University.
Longtime members of the YPO and WPO, the Hillmans advance the organizations’ mission of “Better Leaders Through Education and Idea Exchange” and advocate for the next generation of leaders.
Jennifer serves as the WPO St. Louis family officer and WPO central region family officer. She manages the Washington University @University program, one of 40 groups worldwide that promote leadership and networking among YPO-WPO young adults on college campuses.
Tom is past chairman of the YPO St. Louis Chapter and incoming chairman-elect of both the WPO central region and the WPO international board.
Locally, the Hillmans have a special interest in advancing the Center for Creative Arts (COCA) and provide significant support for its programs. They lend their expertise to many other nonprofit organizations to mentor, raise funds and build networks and leadership capacity among their members.