$5 Million Gift to fund Career Center at Emory & Henry


John van Vlissingen

Emory & Henry College announced at its fall Board of Trustees meeting that it received a gift of $5 million from The van Vlissingen Student Foundation to create The van Vlissingen Center for Career and Professional Development at Emory & Henry College. The gift will support the College’s new strategic initiatives, “Pivot Toward the Future” 2020-23, that was approved at the meeting. 

Funds will annually support a Career and Professional Development Center that will support students and even alumni toward their professional path. Through Emory & Henry’s new connected liberal arts curriculum, the program will be integrated with academic departments to offer an individualized experience for each student. Career counselors will work with students on career discernment, assess interests and alignment, and offer courses and professional engagement opportunities to address life skills, networking and professional development. All students within their area of study will be afforded the opportunity of internships, mentorships, shadowships, research and presentation experiences, to help build their skill set as well as their digital resume to share with future employers or graduate school programs.

“We are fortunate for the van Vlissingen family’s interest in Emory & Henry students,” said President John W. Wells. “Mr. van Vlissingen, a renowned businessman and entrepreneur, has great empathy for students who thirst for the guidance and skills that will lead them to the working world. His support to build and staff this professional development center will leave a legacy to the college and the region.”

Van Vlissingen recently visited campus during commencement and received an honorary degree of Doctor of Business from former President Jake B. Schrum.  Van Vlissingen is the founder and chairman of the board of BCD Group, the third largest business travel company in the world, BCD Group employs over 14,500 people, fills 360 airplanes full of travelers daily, and operates in 109 countries with total annual sales of over $27 billion. He was named one of the 25 Most Influential People in World Business Travel in 2018 by Business Travel News, a leading industry publication. Since 1974, he has been a significant investor in US real estate through NORO real estate and early on was lead investor in the region’s Roanoke’s Valley View Mall.  

The van Vlissingens are a well-known Dutch family who founded one of the world’s largest private trading groups, SHV, in Utrecht, in 1896. Originally coal traders, today their interests include transport, animal feed, oil and gas exploration and financial services. Of the three Van Vlissingen brothers, only one, John Fentener van Vlissingen, made a career outside of the family business when he formed BCD Group. Originally established in 1975 as a real estate investment company, Van Vlissingen expanded the company’s interests into travel and travel-related services. 

Bill Pendleton, an Emory & Henry alumnus and long-time friend and business colleague of van Vlissingen said, “Mr. van Vlissingen and his family wanted to make this gift for three important reasons. First to show their appreciation for the fighting spirit of Appalachian people in their unrelenting fight for economic independence. Secondly to bring a connection with this historic coal region and his families’ early success in coal, and finally to celebrate our long term business partnership.” Pendleton lives in Atlanta, but is originally from Wytheville, Virginia and serves on the E&H board of trustees. He co-chairs the Ascend Capital Campaign and hopes others might be inspired to give. 
The Career and Professional Development Center is the first initiative of many to get underway for Emory & Henry under its new strategic plan. A School of Business and Entrepreneurial Incubator will launch by the Fall of 2020 to help support the region and its economic growth. New business students will have access to an Income Share Agreement where tuition could be waived should they stay, contribute and work in the region or even start their own business. 

“Supporting this region and its future growth is imperative to us,” said Wells. “We have a pipeline of talent that would benefit by being connected to employers and engaging in all aspects of our society. This gift will support our efforts to grow the region through student support and awareness. We look forward to future partnerships to maintain Emory & Henry’s anchor in this region. We have important work to do.”

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