John and Anne paired up romantically soon after college, when they both ended up in New York City. Ever since, staying deeply engaged with their communities has been the cornerstone of the Oros's marriage and family life. While John's burgeoning finance career involved much cross-country travel, Anne worked as a social worker until their children—John (MBA '09), Daniel, and Alexandra (M.S. '09)—were born. Once their children were well settled in grade school, Anne started fostering newborn babies—wards of the state of New Jersey, often born to drug-addicted mothers and medically challenged—until they could be placed back with family or in permanent adoptive homes. Over the years, by John's count, the couple cared for 63 babies in their home—for weeks, months, and, in several cases, years. In 2005, the couple adopted a boy named Alquan, now 12, whom they fostered from infancy. "Really, Alquan adopted us," Anne says. "Alquan was very special and our decision to make him our Forever Son was the biggest and best we've made as a couple." In addition to their close relationship with Alquan, they continue to stay very involved with a special foster son, Ibn, who is now 16. John and Anne, who will soon welcome their fourth grandchild, continue to serve as backup "foster grandparents"—helping active foster parents when needed.
Anne describes her motivation for fostering matter-of-factly: "I always felt we were so blessed with our family and that we could give that family feeling to other children." Other than Alquan and Ibn, John insists his involvement with the babies was relatively uncomplicated—he pitched in nights and weekends with the cuddling, swaddling, and "goo-goo, ga-ga" that all babies need. But he describes the importance of Anne's contribution more emphatically: "With little kids, Anne has a gift. They sleep well, they eat well. It's like she sprinkles magic dust on them." And, he adds, proudly, "Anne has recruited at least a dozen other families in town to foster and adopt. They'd see us bringing a baby to a basketball game at school, or Anne out somewhere with a baby in town, and think, 'Oh, we could do that.'"
A Model For Giving
John Oros's continued involvement with the UW took root in a similar watch-and-learn fashion. Growing up, he didn't observe a history of philanthropy in his own family: His father died when John was just 15 and afterward, his mother, a public school librarian who was passionate about education, lived on a tight budget. But John found models in other UW alumni benefactors who had graduated before him—most influentially, Anne's father, Kenneth Wackman. A Wisconsin native who graduated in 1935, Wackman went on to work as an accounting executive in New York City but maintained strong ties to the University and served on the board of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Oros says that after getting to know Ken Wackman and his fellow alumni donor "buddies" ("all humble, likeable Wisconsin guys who worked really hard and rose to the top, brick by brick") while attending football games with Anne during college, it occurred to him that he, too, could make a difference by being involved in the school in an important way. "Back then, not a lot of kids just out of college cared much about giving money back to school—especially a public school," Oros says. "But I just had an affinity for it."
Oros, a former partner at Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. who is now managing director at the private equity firm J.C. Flowers & Co., has honored his early commitment to his alma mater in progressively deepening ways. The first monetary donations he made to the school shortly after graduation were small, naturally. By 2004, John and Anne jointly donated $1 million to the School of Business to establish the John J. Oros MBA Speaker Series. He saw the program as a way not only to enhance students' education but also to encourage more top corporate and financial executives to visit the school. "Once important speakers come, they see how enthusiastic the students are," John says. "And once important speakers speak [at the School of Business], all of a sudden it's an important place to speak." This, in turn, makes the School an important place for recruiters to look for new hires, an effect he describes as "a virtuous circle." "Even thick-headed Wall Streeters," he notes, "have figured out, 'Why are we going for the middle of the Harvard class when we can get the top graduates from Wisconsin?'"
Better Together: The Wisconsin Naming Partnership
Oros also has been closely involved with the Wisconsin Naming Partnership. When former dean Michael Knetter first floated the idea of not selling naming rights to the Wisconsin School of Business in perpetuity in exchange for a one-time gift—as many schools and cultural institutions do these days—but instead raising money to preserve the school's existing name for twenty years, Oros didn't jump on board right away. He thought the idea seemed "maybe a little too quirky—an idea you might love to hate." Yet after debating the idea over several years with other board members, Oros eventually embraced it. "The conversation got into branding: the idea of partnership, humility"—values strongly associated with Wisconsin that resonated with Oros's own belief in the importance of "sticking together." Oros recalls that, once he saw early donors Ab Nicholas (B.S. '52, MBA '55), Wade Fetzer (B.S. '59), Ted Kellner (BBA '69), and other fellow members of various boards committing their own generous contributions to the fund, he thought to himself: "'These are people I've known and admired all my life. The idea is a little crazy, a little bit esoteric. But I would be sick if I felt I could afford this and wasn't associated with this group of people doing this.'" Oros donated $5 million to the pool himself in 2007. And he's very glad he did. That same year, the gift exceeded its initial goal of $50 million, with a total of $85 million committed. Together, the 15 members of the Wisconsin Naming Partnership have contributed $100 million in all, making the gift the largest unrestricted gift to the University of Wisconsin in history. The funds are available "to the dean to use strategically to enhance the School now, not some time in the future," explains Oros. And while he likes that for now no one person's name is attached to the School, he cites another important reason for contributing to the partnership: "Enhancing the value of your school's name and reputation enhances your own career. It's actually beneficial to everyone who's involved, both directly and in a more egalitarian way. It's a really cool idea. And the question is, why hasn't anyone else been able to do it?"
On top of continuing to serve on the board of the UW Foundation and other School of Business committees, Oros currently chairs the School's campaign planning committee to support the University's comprehensive campaign. Under Oros's leadership, the committee has helped the School streamline its focus into three priorities: inspired learning, passionate community, and innovative partnerships. Inspired learning, designed to spark innovative teaching and learning approaches, is especially important to John and Anne. They have decided to underwrite a new faculty endowment called the John and Anne Oros Distinguished Chair for Inspired Learning in Business. The position will support, recognize and reward extraordinary Wisconsin School of Business faculty scholars for their dedication to advancing learning in business education.
For Anne, the primary value of volunteering and philanthropy is connecting with people she wouldn't meet otherwise. "You learn so much, you grow, and continue to go new places in your head when you meet those opportunities," she says. John sees his involvement as a major part of his life. "If you can get in the habit of giving back your first year out of school, even if it's peanuts, be one of those. If you stay connected and give each year, you could chair your reunion—a very good thing for you and your career. You will have distinguished yourself, and you will have options to stay involved in the University for the rest of your life. The University is a major life experience. And the associations and friendships you'll make staying involved are a joy—really a gift from the University to you, not the other way around."