Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Alfred Lerner was the only son of Russian immigrants and grew up in the back of his family’s candy store. After graduating from Columbia College in 1955, he served as a pilot in the Marine Corps and then sold furniture in New York, Baltimore, and Cleveland. He later moved into real estate and banking, eventually becoming chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of MBNA America N.A. In 1998, Mr. Lerner brought pro football back to Cleveland by buying the newly formed Browns, which began play in the National Football League the next year. He became an important figure among N.F.L. owners, serving as chairman of the league’s finance committee.
A business leader, benefactor, sports enthusiast, and patriot, Mr. Lerner’s philanthropic interests included medical research and educational causes. He was known for being a positive leader, lived by the motto “Officers eat last,” and was quoted as saying, “Humility and competence are keys to being successful” and “Relax, don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t be self-important.”
His honors included the Alexander Hamilton Medal, Columbia College’s highest honor; the NAACP Freedom Award; and the Horatio Alger Award.
A Generous Endowment
In December 2002, the MBNA Foundation and the company’s executive committee endowed the University of Delaware’s College of Business and Economics with $20 million in memory of Alfred Lerner. In recognition of the endowment, the University named the college the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.
Charles Cawley, then MBNA president and a UD trustee, called it a wonderful combination and noted the company was glad to “combine the name of a man we admire with a university that we admire.”
Since the time the endowment was made, the college has been able to greatly enhance educational opportunities available to business and economics students. The extraordinary gift has also enabled the faculty of the college to strengthen existing programs, develop new and innovative programs to meet the highest standards of academic excellence, and be responsive to emerging industry needs.