The Franke Family

In 2016, William A. and Carolyn Franke and their family gave UM the largest single gift in its history. On Nov. 18, 2016, the Montana University System Board of Regents approved the naming of the Franke Global Leadership Initiative and the W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation in honor of this transformative $24 million gift.

The Franke Global Leadership Initiative will receive $6 million to support:

  • Franke Global Leadership Initiative Fellowship Fund
  • Franke Global Leadership Initiative Program Fund

The Franke family members are not UM alumni but have a deep appreciation for Montana. They believe strongly in the power of education, the importance of conservation and instilling a global perspective in today’s students. Over the course of the past decade, the family has developed a strong relationship with UM.

For the past eight summers, a UM faculty member or alum has been invited to speak to a group of the Frankes’ business partners during their annual Indigo Partners company retreat in Montana.

“As we became familiar with the educational opportunities, research and special programs at the University of Montana, it was clear to us the University is a hidden gem,” Bill Franke said.

“We are believers that the Global Leadership Initiative will train students to look beyond their own experiences and home geography to recognize that we live in a global economy," said Bill Franke.

Bill Franke is the managing partner and founder of Indigo Partners, a private equity firm focused on worldwide investments in air transportation, and former CEO of several public companies, including America West Airlines. During his early career in the timber industry, Bill drove the Hi-Line and fell in love with the Big Sky Country. He and his wife, Carolyn, divide time between Texas and Arizona but have owned a home near Bigfork, Montana, since the 1990s, maintaining their connection to the beautiful forests, rivers and lakes of western Montana.

The family has a strong history of philanthropy and has been longtime supporters of the Sojourner Center, a shelter for abused women and children in Phoenix; the United Way; education initiatives in India; and many other charities. The Frankes have also made donations to the law and business programs at Stanford, where Bill received his bachelor’s and law degree, and to Northern Arizona University to establish the W.A. Franke College of Business.

Franke family at UM

(At UM in November, 2016 (l-r): Paige Franke, Bill Franke, Carolyn Franke, Dave Franke, Johnny Franke, Brian Franke)

The decision to invest in UM was a family endeavor involving Bill and Carolyn’s five children: Dave, who oversees the family office, Franke and Company; Brian, a principal at Indigo Partners; Paige and Catherine, who are both educators; and Rebecca. 

Learn more:

UM on Track to Receive Largest Single Gift in Its History - Oct. 11, 2016 

Largest Single Gift in UM History Supports Conservation, Global Leadership - Nov. 18, 2016