Alumnus Brian Gerhardson’s $6 million commitment to support student scholarships is inspired by the indelible impact of a college education.
For seven years, Brian Gerhardson, ’86 BSB, persevered. He was going to get his degree.
Despite taking semesters off to work at The Foursome clothing store in Wayzata, Minnesota, or to sell shoes at Dayton’s to cover his tuition. Despite his father telling him he should just get a steady job and forget about college. Despite facing a lack of acceptance—and feeling isolated—as a gay man.
So now, nearly 32 years later, Gerhardson takes considerable pride in having made a $6 million commitment to the Carlson School of Management to support scholarships, affording students the kind of financial backing he didn’t have as an undergraduate.
“An education is so absolutely essential. The statistics bear themselves out,” says Gerhardson, the owner of South End Wealth Management, a Boston-based private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services.
Gerhardson is living proof of the dramatic effect a college education can have on one’s life.
The son of a city employee and a nursing home housekeeper, he was the first in his family to attend college and paid his own way—apart from the $660 his dad chipped in to help cover his final six months of rent. When graduation arrived, he had a grand thought: “I want to go out and have a worldly experience.”
He craved a move to one of the coasts, and a sales job with Land O’Lakes in Boston provided the avenue. Two years later, he joined Ameriprise, where he’ll celebrate his 30-year anniversary in November.
“What I love about my work is that my role, in the lives of individuals and families who hire me, has an absolute direct impact in how they can build their own financial security,” says the 56-year-old Gerhardson, who’s worked with some clients for nearly all of his tenure at Ameriprise.
Perhaps it’s fitting that long-run impact resonates with Gerhardson. He’s evolved from someone who “maybe went for three-mile runs” in college into an accomplished marathoner. He’s run marathons on all seven continents, including Antarctica. He also has designs on completing marathons in all 50 European countries after finishing his 10th on the continent earlier this year in Reykjavik, Iceland. And he’s amused countless spectators through his personal tradition of running the Boston Marathon in costume, a ritual that started with a red beehive wig in 2000.
“There are three reasons I like running: mental therapy, physical therapy, and traveling the world,” he says.
Last October, he returned to Minnesota to run the Twin Cities Marathon, his 40th marathon. A few weeks later, he took another trip down memory lane by coming back to the Carlson School to serve as a panelist at an LGBT+ alumni reunion hosted by the undergraduate student organization Compass. He called the event “a larger gathering than I could have possibly imagined in my time here.”
“If you told me there was going to be an LGBTQ gathering for Carlson students and alums back when I was here in the 1980s, I would have thought I (would be) the only one showing up, because I didn’t know anyone else who was gay or lesbian at the University,” he says.
If Gerhardson has his way, no current student will struggle with that level of isolation. He hopes his scholarship fund will help, in part, build a community of support. He started the fund in 2014 and describes his latest gift as “hunkering down” on his commitment.
“Having faced a variety of challenges that could have otherwise kept me from getting to an education, through an education, and to the end of that education,” he says, “I recognize that having an education can make the difference in how you experience the rest of your life.”
This feature originally appeared in the Spring 2018 Carlson School Alumni Magazine.