With more than 440,000 living alumni and a top-tier reputation, UW–Madison has no shortage of exceptional graduates. Selecting the superlative among this crowd is no easy task, but the Wisconsin Alumni Association has offered Distinguished Alumni Awards annually since 1936. This year, WAA’s highest honor acknowledges four alumni who have made stellar contributions to their professions, their communities, and their alma mater.
Phill Gross is known as a true advocate and champion for the underrepresented. He’s not only involved in supporting diversity on the UW–Madison campus — he is passionate about promoting it across the country.
Gross is a cofounder and managing director for Adage Capital Management, a Boston-based firm focused on managing S&P 500 assets, predominantly for nonprofit and academic endowments and foundations. Adage manages some $30 billion in assets and has outperformed the S&P 500 in 17 out of the 18 years of its existence. The firm is known for its unique analyst-driven investment strategies and for giving refunds to investors when the fund underperforms. In addition to being one of the fund’s two managing directors, Gross is responsible for managing one of the health care portfolios at Adage.
Prior to founding Adage, Gross was a health care and retail analyst, an equity research director, and a partner at the Harvard Management Company (HMC) for 18 years after graduating from Wisconsin in 1983. He and a team of analysts left HMC and started Adage in 2001. “Phill Gross is a person who sought out and valued diversity and inclusion long before it was formally declared as the right thing to do,” says Deputy Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer Patrick J. Sims.
Gross’s commitment to diversity grew even stronger when he became friends with the late Mercile Lee, a former assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs. Lee was the founding director of the UW Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholarship programs, which attract students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Phill and his wife, Liz, made a major gift to make the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program self-sustaining for future generations. They’ve also offered to match donations to grow the program’s reach over the long term.
Gross’s long list of UW involvements has included serving on the UW Foundation board’s investment committee, and he and Liz have also been generous supporters of Alumni Park.
True to his profession, Gross looks at his gifts as investments, and he’s strategic about leveraging them to inspire the broadest possible outcomes. A member of the Van Hise Society, he has been extremely generous to the Wisconsin School of Business and joined its Wisconsin Naming Partnership as a founding member. He has served on the advisory board for the school’s Nicholas Center for Corporate Finance and Investment Banking and the Hawk Center for Investment Analysis.
He is also an avid supporter of the school’s Business Emerging Leaders (BEL) Program for high-achieving high school students, which is designed to cultivate a diverse community of business students and leaders. In addition to participating in the donor effort to fund the program, Gross has mentored the BEL students on their summer visits to campus. He’s also involved in several other projects at the school, including efforts to promote student philanthropy.
The Grosses also support community philanthropy in the Boston area and beyond. Phill is an avid skier and is on the board of trustees for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Foundation. In keeping with his passion for sports, he and Liz have a special interest in enhancing access to active sports for inner-city kids. To this end, they support Boston’s Youth Enrichment Services, as well as the National Winter Activity Center in Vernon, New Jersey. Phill is also a founder of Strategic Grant Partners, a consortium of family foundations in Massachusetts that benefits education, youth development, and family services in the state.
Phill and Liz are extensively involved in supporting medical and health-related research at Tufts University, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the Harvard Medical School. Phill is chair of the Science Committee at Dana-Farber and is on the board of fellows at the Harvard Medical School.
Learn more about the honorees at uwalumni.com/about/alumni-awards/distinguished-alumni-award/