“Over there used to be the Blue and Gold Restaurant,” said the dapper, financial
industry icon as he pointed to Beechurst Avenue. “A mom and son ran it and I ate
lunch there every day.”
His memories shifted to the former Acropolis (or Nick’s Canteen), Thursday night and Friday “socials” and then back to the very spot he was standing.
“I took phys ed classes here my freshman year,” said Reynolds, president and CEO of Putnam Investments, one of the oldest mutual fund companies in the United States. He’s been regarded as “the father of the 401(k).” “Even before I came to college, growing up in Clarksburg, we’d go to a lot of basketball games.”
For Mountaineers of yesteryear, Stansbury Hall, which opened in 1929 as the WVU Field House, resonates. It served as the home to WVU basketball and showcased the hoops wizardry of legends like Jerry West and “Hot” Rod Hundley until 1970.
But the time to transform the landmark began in 2017, when Reynolds and his wife Laura jumpstarted efforts to replace Stansbury Hall with a futuristic, innovative business school complex with a $10 million gift.
That contribution, however, came with a caveat: Reynolds wanted West’s blessing before proceeding with the vision.
“When they identified the old Field House as the site for a new school, I loved the concept,” Reynolds said. “But I wanted Jerry West to tell me it’s OK. That building meant so much to so many West Virginians. He came back and said, ‘You need to move on. The future is what we need to be focused on. There are a lot of great memories there but we need to create new memories.’”
Reynolds is carrying on that sentiment.
While he reminisced about the hot hangout spots of the early 1970s, he displayed a keener eagerness for what will unfold from Reynolds Hall, new home to the Chambers College of Business and Economics, and its impact on the state and the business leaders of tomorrow.
The sizzle behind the steak
To facilitate a revolution in business learning, space is key. Reynolds pulls no punches on the previous sites for the business school.
“The old building was not conducive to collaboration and getting people together,” he said. “When I was in business school, it was at Armstrong Hall. There was no collaboration space there, either. Everyone went to the Mountainlair.
“My vision of a new building was more dramatic. It had to make a real statement because businesses come to colleges to recruit.”
The new 186,000-square-foot complex, officially opened in August 2022, features experiential-learning classrooms, a real-time stock ticker, computer labs, a 300-seat auditorium, an inviting atrium, 50 study rooms, a café and dining area, green space, a fitness center and a social stairwell modeled after one at Google headquarters. The stairwell doubles as a seating area where students can study or socialize and collaborate with others.
High-tech, hands-on learning spaces include the Wehrle Global Supply Chain Lab, Roll Capital Markets Center and labs devoted to social media and marketing, data analytics and cybersecurity. Within those labs, faculty will work directly with students in utilizing cutting-edge technology for projects and research.
How does all that sound for innovative and collaborative space?
“I’ve toured the building under various stages of its construction,” Reynolds said. “But when I went in after it opened, what set it off for me was seeing the students. It exceeded every vision I had. You walk in the door and there’s so much activity going on. It’s not just an academic building with classrooms. You can tell it’ll be a special place for a long time.”
Having lived and worked in major cities such as Charlotte and Boston, Reynolds knows what a thriving business community can do to a region. He strongly believes the complex will give a shot-in-the-arm to the area.
“A common thread through great business regions is that they all have great business schools around them,” he said. “This school can play an integral part in the future of the state. It’s something that will benefit the state of West Virginia for generations to come.”
Reynolds Hall has the potential to reach beyond the borders of West Virginia. In fact, it already has.
Alexsa Ruiz is primed to be a success story emerging from the reinvented college. A management information systems senior from Weehawken, N.J., Ruiz got to meet the namesakes of Reynolds Hall during the grand opening ceremony. She also got to speak at the event in front of a crowded lobby in the seven-story building.
Ruiz has already racked up an impressive resume in her time here. She worked as a summer intern with Ernst & Young – one of the Big Four accounting firms – in its New York City office. She’s also involved in many Chambers College initiatives such as serving as an ambassador and peer career coach and mentor to other students.
Not only does Reynolds Hall provide space that’s more conducive to learning but also for making connections outside the classroom. The building hosts a recruiter lounge and interview rooms where students can meet with top employers.
"Students like me will now have those in-person interactions that I missed out on in my interview process," Ruiz said. “Grades are important, of course, but learning how to face the competitive business world and making connections outside of the classroom are tools that will last a lifetime.”
For Ruiz, she’s taken pleasure in working in the data analytics lab and believes each student will have their own favorite learning lab in the building.
“The new building is a chance for every single student to find their niche,” said Ruiz, who’s also minoring in data analytics. “For me, I am most excited to utilize the data analytics lab because I will get a chance to collaborate with my fellow peers to solve real-world problems to help us excel in the workforce.
"Everyone has a different learning style, and I believe that Reynolds Hall will help those that need face-to-face interactions and hands-on learning experiences like myself.”
Lab work – and play
When trying to engage young people with hands-on learning experiences, there may be no better way than how John Saldanha describes the Werhle Global Supply Chain Lab, which he leads.
He calls it the “Minecraft” of global supply chain studies.
Just like the mega-popular video game, in which players explore a 3D world with virtually infinite terrain, the lab will offer an immersive digital environment for novel interactions. But these interactions will lead to real-world implications in global supply chain management, the distribution of goods and services through a worldwide network.
“It will operate as a working space where students have the opportunity to build and see virtual reality content,” said Saldanha, Sears chair in global supply chain management and associate professor. “It will be a sandbox for students to try out ideas. Think of it as a ‘Minecraft’ for supply chain studies.”
Saldanha hopes the lab will equip students with the skills to understand a digitally-enabled supply chain through VR.
“Let’s take the example of a soft drink. You have the bottle, the label and the ingredients that go into it like sugar and water, and so on,” he said. “You also have to consider the plant, the bottle supplier, where the water comes from and modes of transportation. Now, on a tabletop and through experiential learning, students can configure and better understand the connections and how global supply chain works.”
Outside of scheduled class times, Saldanha foresees students using the space to create and develop supply chain concepts. It will also benefit faculty, who will use the lab to work with other schools and colleges on collaborative projects.
Where the future never ends
These business education marvels tucked inside a waterfront complex spawned from an idea “to do something” in the mind of Reynolds while he served as a national co-chair of a University fundraising campaign in the early 2010s.
“Verl Purdy (managing partner of Cadrillion Capital) and I headed that capital campaign and we each decided we’d make a gift to make a statement,” Reynolds said. “I considered contributing to Athletics but I knew a lot of people already did that. The business school, however, was very special to me. It was a good part of my life.”
Eventually, the thought of tapping into the Monongahela riverfront, which Reynolds called “the most unused real estate on campus,” entered the discussion.
“My eyes got big,” said Reynolds, remembering those initial conversations.
WVU President E. Gordon Gee had the honor of announcing the initial gift from Reynolds and his wife in 2017. Fast forward five years and Gee touted the potential brewing from within the building’s walls at the opening ceremony.
“Its labs and learning tools will also forge new synergies between industry and academia, creating engagement opportunities for our students that lead to internships and job placement,” Gee said.
“Bob Reynolds has always been a driving force for innovation in the mutual fund industry, and it is fitting that he and his wife Laura have brought such a catalyst for innovation to life on our campus.”
Despite the culmination of nearly a decade – from brainstorming ideas to the completion of Reynolds Hall – coming together as its doors opened, progress has not halted. Milan Puskar Dean Josh Hall, who helped shepherd Reynolds Hall to the finish line, said the building’s completion only signifies a beginning, not an end.
“Reynolds Hall is more than bricks and mortar: it is a shining beacon of hope for our college, our campus and the state of West Virginia,” Hall said. “It will pave the way for our students to make their marks on the world in ways that only Mountaineers can.”
And unlike traditional buildings that go up and need to be remodeled and renovated years down the line, Reynolds believes Reynolds Hall will be adaptable to changing trends in the future.
“What I love about it is that it’s built in 2022, but 10 years from now this can be a brand-new school because of the flexibility of how it was built,” Reynolds said. “It’s focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. This has staying power. This is the beginning of something.”