A new professorship at Cornell Law School endowed by Jonathan Zhu and his wife, Ruby Ye, M.S. '90, Ph.D. '92, is being filled by former Law School Dean Stewart Schwab.
"I am delighted to announce the creation of the Jonathan and Ruby Zhu Professorship of Law, through a generous donation from the Zhus, and pleased to nominate Stewart Schwab as the inaugural holder of the Zhu Professorship," said Eduardo Peñalver, the Law School's Allan R. Tessler Dean. "Both Stewart's longstanding relationship with them, and his outstanding career as a faculty member and former dean make this a fitting nomination."
Jonathan Zhu, who took Schwab's torts class when he was a law student, says: "I have enormous respect for Dean Schwab as a legal scholar, teacher, and administrator, and I'm really pleased that he has been named to the professorship. He's teaching torts again in the fall semester," Zhu noted. "I told him I'd love to sit in on his class and relive that memory."
About the gift, Zhu comments: "To me it's really about our trying to give back to Cornell for what it gave us. The Law School gave me financial support. Without it, I wouldn't have been able to attend.
Sitting on the Law School Dean's Council for the past few years, I learned a lot about the school and what the needs are," he says. "To continue to build faculty is one of the important needs."
That awareness motivated Zhu and his wife to endow a Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellowship in 2011 and the new professorship this year.
"It's an honor to have been named to the Jonathan and Ruby Zhu Professorship," says Schwab, who joined the faculty in 1983 and served as dean from 2004 to 2014. "An endowment for a chair by anyone is a significant and generous gift to the school, but it's especially meaningful to be awarded the chair endowed by the Zhus," he says. "Their story is a great Cornell story."
Described as one of China's "powerful deal makers" in a 2005 news story in the International Herald Tribune,Jonathan Zhu has been managing director of Bain Capital Asia since 2006.
But he still calls himself an accidental banker.
"I started out wanting to be an academic," explains Zhu, who, after earning a master's degree in English at Nanjing University in his native China, came to Cornell in the mid-1980s to study 19th century English poet William Wordsworth in a Ph.D. program under the renowned literary scholar M.H. Abrams.
Then two things happened that radically changed Zhu's life.
While at Cornell he met a compatriot, Ruyin "Ruby" Ye, who became his wife. At the time she was working on her master's degree in organic chemistry under Professor Bruce Ganem. She went on to obtain her Ph.D. in genetics under Professor Anthony Bretscher.
"My wife and I spent seven years in Ithaca," recalls Zhu. "It was one of the best periods of our lives. Cornell will always be special to us because we got to know each other there."
When the pair married in 1987 near campus, at the Sheraton Inn, their attendants included the celebrated Professor Abrams and Cornell nuclear nuclear physicist Boyce McDaniel and his wife, Jan. McDaniel, who had worked earlier on the Manhattan project and who went on to start Cornell's nuclear science program, was a friend of Zhu's father-in-law.
After graduation, the Zhus moved to New York City, where Ruby worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center under James Rothman, who went on to win a Nobel Prize. Meanwhile Jonathan joined Morgan Stanley as an associate. The couple moved to Hong Kong in 1996, and Jonathan Zhu was named CEO of Morgan Stanley China in 2004.
Since he joined Bain Capital Asia as its managing director in 2006, it has made significant investments throughout Asia under his leadership, raising capital when it was challenging to do so, with impressive results, according to the international edition of the South China Morning Post.
What distinguishes a good investment opportunity in Asia?
"When Bain Capital Asia considers making investments, we seek opportunities that have tailwind rather than headwind," says Zhu. (FYI: a tailwind blows in the same direction as a plane, for example, increasing its speed and reducing its time to destination - which sounds like just what one might want in an investment.)
The Zhus are also hoping for tailwinds when they travel to and from the United States, which is more often now that their two oldest children attend college stateside (Matthew is at Cornell; Daniel at Duke).
Their daughter, Elizabeth, is a high school student in Hong Kong.
Little known fact: Jonathan Zhu's initial Cornell connection came well before he set foot on campus, relates Schwab. "When former Cornell President Dale Corson was working for the World Bank in China, Jonathan, a college student there at the time, was assigned to be his translator. 'What are your ambitions?' Corson asked him. When Zhu said he wanted to do graduate study on Wordsworth, Corson suggested Cornell."
The rest, as they say, is history.
Corson's advice launched a marvelous journey for the Zhus that has included study,marriage, family, and for Jonathan Zhu, a successful career in investment banking in Asia that he couldn't have envisioned when he first set out for Ithaca, New York, and Cornell.
With this new professorship, he and his wife, Ruby, are expressing their gratitude.