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The business school at Boston University is to change its name to the Questrom school following the donation this month of $40m by retired retail executive Allen Questrom and his wife Kelli. Combined with the $10m given to the business school by Mr Questrom in 2012, the donation represents the largest gift ever to Boston University.

The lion’s share of the money will be used to attract top-notch professors, says Kenneth Freeman, dean of the business school. “Our belief is that there is nothing that compares to having the very, very best faculty.”

A small part of the money will be used in the planning process for the schools proposed new building, which will house its graduate students. The existing business school building was opened in 1996 and intended for 1,700 students. These days it teaches 3,500 undergraduate and graduate students.

Mr Questrom attributes the start of his retail career to having an inspiration retail professor at BU, from where he graduated with a bachelors degree in 1964. At the time of his graduation, he recalls, he really wanted to be a skiing instructor but the lack of snow that year persuaded him to go into the retail sector instead.

Mr Questrom spent most of his career at Federated Department Stores, starting as a management trainee in 1964 and rising to corporate executive vice-president 23 years later. In 1988 he left Federated to join Neiman Marcus but returned in 1990 and brought the company out of bankruptcy in 1993. In 1995 he engineered the acquisition of rivals Broadway Department Stores and Macy’s. In 1999 he came out of retirement to head up Barneys New York and then joined JCPenney, where he was chairman and chief executive until 2005.

The gift is part of a wider fundraising campaign at Boston University, which is hoping to raise $1bn by 2017. The $50m Questrom pledge brings the campaign total to $823m.

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