Chris Shean defines what it means to be a Hokie
Since 2016, when Virginia Tech first revealed plans for the Global Business and Analytics Complex, Chris Shean (accounting ’87) has acted as one of the project’s most vocal champions. He provided the first major gift to the project, has hosted awareness events for the endeavor in his hometown region of Southside Virginia, and is the largest individual donor to the project, contributing — along with his wife, Lesley Shean (education ’88) — $2.5 million to help make the complex a reality.
During the March groundbreaking event for the Data and Decision Sciences Building, Shean, who served for many years as a senior executive at Liberty Media, voiced his reasons for his support of this key initiative.
“I want to take action and set a good example for others to follow,” he explained.
The Global Business and Analytics Complex, commonly shortened to GBAC, will ultimately include four buildings on the university’s main campus in Blacksburg: two living-learning residential communities and two academic buildings. The first building, the Data and Decision Sciences Building, just celebrated its topping off, traditionally held when the last beam is placed upon a structure during construction.
The Data and Decision Sciences Building is approximately 120,000-gross-square-feet and will house faculty and classes from multiple colleges, including the College of Engineering, the College of Science, and the Pamplin College of Business.
The Data and Decision Sciences Building's function, and one of the major functions of GBAC overall, is to bring together students and faculty who share a passion for an analytic approach to problem-solving in collaborative work environments, as well as for transdisciplinary research and hands-on learning.
For Shean, the completion of the complex is personal.
“The experience and education I received at Virginia Tech and the Pamplin School of Business are what laid the foundation for me to have a successful career in business,” he said. “Virginia Tech is important to me — some of my favorite memories are from my time there — and it holds a special place in my heart.”
Though Shean looks back on his time in Pamplin fondly, he realizes that, over 35 years since he last sat in the building as a student, the current facilities are untenable if the college is going to continue to grow in size and reputation.
“There is a need,” Shean said. “The school has grown significantly over the years, which has only exacerbated the problem of cramped learning spaces. The facility is ill-equipped to support the technologies for use in top-notch business education for today.”
He added: “In order to hire the best faculty and continue to entice the best students, it is extremely important we have great facilities.”
The complex is going to be more than just a collection of buildings. GBAC is one of the top six fundraising priorities of Boundless Impact: The Campaign for Virginia Tech, and will be an inflection point for Pamplin’s future, as well as Virginia Tech’s future.
“The GBAC project is revolutionary,” Shean added. “It is extremely innovative and will allow for facilities to better support the evolving changes in the school’s curriculum. We are morphing from a strictly discipline-based teaching model to more of an interdisciplinary, team-based model, which ultimately will provide our students with an educational experience that will more closely resemble the modern workplace.”
He continued, “These changes are revolutionary and very cutting-edge in academia. It will enhance Virginia Tech’s reputation and make its graduates more highly sought after in the job market.”
Though the pandemic has altered how many classes are taught, the need for in-person learning and collaboration will never wane, Shean said.
“Distance learning is a valuable tool for universities to employ appropriately, but not in any way does it obviate the need for the GBAC project and what it represents for the future,” Shean said. “While it is true that COVID has forced universities to expedite the rollout of distance learning, distance learning was never intended to replace the need for in-person classes. In fact, the need for team-based, interactive projects and learning experiences are as important today as ever. Developing relationship-building skills and abilities to interact effectively with other professionals outside of your specific area is a critical skill set employers highly value and demand from their recruits.”
During his career with Liberty Media and Liberty Interactive, Shean learned the importance of recruiting employees with highly valuable skillsets, including good communication skills. During his time with Liberty Media, Shean oversaw accounting and treasury functions for numerous media and entertainment holdings, including Sirius XM Radio, QVC, and the Atlanta Braves Baseball Club.
Shean is emerging as a university leader. Along with advocating and financially supporting the four-building complex, he is active on the PAC Cabinet, which serves as the executive committee of the Pamplin Advisory Council. He has also just been appointed to the Virginia Tech Foundation Board.
“I challenged myself to make a difference,” Shean said. “The school needs all alumni to step up and make a difference. When projects of this scale happen, it requires an all-hands-on-deck mentality.”
Given his extraordinary support for GBAC to date, it should be no surprise that Shean recently brought many fellow Hokies together, this time in Richmond, to highlight the project and help raise additional donations.
As Robert Sumichrast, dean of the Pamplin College of Business, stated while at the topping off ceremony for the Data and Decision Sciences Building, “Chris was the first person who really believed in the concept, he was the first person to make a major investment in the project, and now he is the person to have made the greatest financial commitment to GBAC. We wouldn’t be where we are with the overall private fundraising if it were not for him.”
The Global Business and Analytics Complex has a remaining goal of a little more than $7 million to raise this academic year to move to the design for the remaining academic building in the complex.