Sonny and Lena Gan looking into distance.

Gans Fellowship to Support International Students

Friday, October 14, 2022



After a childhood that began in Hangzhou, China, in 1945 and ended in Taiwan, Shou Shu “Sonny” Gan came to the University of Minnesota for his MBA in 1969.


In order to afford his tuition and living expenses, Gan worked as a parking lot attendee and in a restaurant. This situation, he says, was much different from his domestic student peers.

“The difference between the Taiwanese and the U.S. students was like night and day,” he says. “And I want to do my part to change that.”

More than 50 years later, Gan is doing just that. With his wife, Lena, the couple recently established the Sonny and Lena Gan Fellowship, an endowed fund that will help current and future MBA students at the Carlson School gain the education they need to succeed in today’s complex, fast-paced world of business.

The Gans Fellowship will support international students, especially those from Taiwan, where they maintain deep, familial roots, and/or mainland China, where they both were born. The fellowship will serve as an ongoing resource for the Carlson School to attract the best and brightest international talent to its MBA programs.

Sonny and Lena Gan
Sonny, '72 MBA, and Lena Gan.

Currently, 19 percent of Full-Time MBA students are international.

The gift will help further extend the Carlson School as a leader in international education, including in China and Taiwan.The school offers three degree programs—the 20-year old China Executive MBA program, the Medical Industry MBA, and the Global Doctor of Business Administration—and has five academic partner institutions. With support from the Carlson Global Institute, students are able to access important educational experiences in the region as well.

“I’m hoping this gift can help with the financial need for students and help them finish their education without having to take on a second job,” Gan says. “And hopefully later on, this gift may inspire them to think about possibly doing something similar.”

While studying for his MBA, Gan was impressed with how many international students there were at the University. He estimates that about 500 students attended the Chinese New Year celebration held on campus.

In the classroom, he found that many of his peers already had a few years of business experience. “When I was on campus, I didn’t have any work experience,” Gan recalls. “I was fresh out of college and my MBA was almost a continuation of my education. So, I think looking and listening to the interactions from my fellow classmates who had already been working for different companies gave me some inspiration. The education that I got was helpful in so many ways. Those years in the MBA program widened my life spectrum and was an important influence to me as a young person.”

After graduating in 1972, Gan first worked at Taiwan’s Chinese Petroleum Corporation. At the time, Taiwan was booming and opportunities were numerous for those who spoke English and had American business education.

He eventually was recruited by Admiral Overseas Corporation, a U. S. company, as material control manager and taught business courses at two universities in Taipei.

Throughout my career, I’ve learned that perseverance is key,” he says. “The best things in life are never handed to you. You have to work hard at every step.
– Sonny Gan, ’72 MBA

In 1978, the Gan family moved to the Los Angeles area, where they’ve been since, and Gan worked for a Taiwanese company before shifting to a local Gardena company, expanding his network with Hong Kong’s major trading companies for Chinese manufacturing plants. Six years later, the Gans became U.S. citizens and Sonny Gan discovered attractive opportunities in automotive wheel accessories. In 1991, he started his own company. But, it soon failed.

“Throughout my career, I’ve learned that perseverance is key,” he says. “The best things in life are never handed to you. You have to work hard at every step.” During that time, he began applying the lessons he learned in his initial failure to resurrect his company a few years later. In 1994, White Knight Wheel Accessories opened. This time it succeeded. Today, the company is a leader in the automotive aftermarket industry.

Now, the Gans are helping students who have a story similar to theirs.

“The older I get, the more I think about giving,” Sonny Gan says. “And the more thankful I am for my education. I worked very hard as a student, and the U of M molded me.”

Fall 2022 alumni magazine cover

This article appeared in the Fall 2022 alumni magazine

Transitions present a time for celebration and reflection.

The Carlson School looks at past and present initiatives with an eye toward the future.

Fall 2022 table of contents