Love Amid the Ledgers

Alumni love story inspires scholarship gift

From the Spring 2015 edition of Vanderbilt Business

Liz and Russ Fleischer are living a Vanderbilt Owen love story.

What began as a chance meeting when they were paired as foursome partners at an Owen-sponsored golf tournament in the summer of 1990 soon blossomed into a relationship set against the backdrop of study sessions for finance class and visits to local hangouts like San Antonio Taco Co. and 12th & Porter.

Russ Fleischer was a second-year MBA student, while Liz Stapp had just started as a first year. Despite Russ’ graduation in the spring of 1991 and his move to upstate New York to start his career, the two continued to date. By the time Liz walked across the stage at Commencement the following year, they were determined to find their way back to each other.

The partnerships they built with classmates at Owen helped them do just that.

“It is the relationships and the people that I value most about my Owen experience,” Russ, MBA’91, says. “When Liz took her job in Atlanta over the summer of ’92, I told her, ‘I will find my way to Atlanta.’ And through the really great Owen network that has always served me well, the wife of one of my best friends from Vanderbilt helped me get a position in Atlanta at Ernst and Young.”

Russ and Liz Fleischer at their engagement party.

The couple married in May 1994. Though the next 20 years brought career changes, moves and the birth of their twins—daughter Amelia and son Alexander, who are now 12—their love for each other and their alma mater remained constant.

“One of the great things I found about Owen is the lack of competitiveness. You’re really supporting each other,” Liz, MBA’92, says. “You aren’t in competition with your neighbor, but rather working with and learning from your neighbor.”

A gift back for the gift given

Recently their gratitude, both for the educations they received and that they met at the business school, inspired them to give back to Vanderbilt by endowing the Liz and Russ Fleischer Scholarship. The scholarship, which will be awarded for the first time this fall, will provide financial support for deserving students to attend the Owen School without the burden of impending debt.

The gift is one that had been on the Fleischers’ minds for a while. The timing seemed to be right last year when Russ, a longtime technology industry entrepreneur, sold his company, HighJump, to Accellos and went to work with Battery Ventures in Boston.

“We’ve been very fortunate from a career perspective and a general life perspective,” Russ says. “Vanderbilt, and the Owen School in particular, have been so special to us. Over time we thought, ‘What better way to show that than to create opportunities for deserving students we could assist in some way?’”

Equipped to tackle the world

After Commencement, Liz joined UPS in Atlanta as marketing director and oversaw the company’s sponsorship of the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. Later, she worked in marketing for Staples and NextJet. She volunteers with several nonprofits in the couple’s current hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

Both Fleischers know how important philanthropy is and hope that the students who benefit from their scholarship will share not only their passion for Owen, but also for giving back.

“I want them to take away a joyful experience that makes them want to give back to the school when they finish because they had such a fantastic experience,” Russ says.Liz agrees and adds, “I hope that the students who benefit from the scholarship discover the things they want to accomplish, and then use the great skills they’ve learned at Vanderbilt to go out and tackle the world.”

Russ and Liz’s Owen story will continue long after the first Liz and Russ Fleischer Scholarship is awarded this fall.

“I want them to take away a joyful experience.” —Russ Fleischer

The couple is committed to doing even more for the school they feel has given them so much.

“For us, this is just the beginning of something. We would like to grow the endowment for this particular scholarship, without question,” Russ says. “Continuing to be attached and associated with the school remains very high on our radar.”