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Signs Point to a Major Gift for UC

UC College of Business receives $2 million gift to establish a professorship of signage and visual marketing.

Date: 12/10/2007 12:00:00 AM
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Other Contact: Christa Tutwiler
Other Contact Phone: (513) 556-6706
Photos By: Dottie Stover, photojournalist

UC ingot  
This gift entails a significant progression in the relationship between UC and the sign industry
UC College of Business Dean McIntosh with Sharon and James Weinel.

With a $2 million gift from Sharon and James Weinel, the University of Cincinnati is establishing the James S. Womack/Gemini Chair of Signage and Visual Marketing. The Weinels own Gemini, Inc., the largest producer of dimensional letters and logos in the world.

Like the signs they produce, the Weinels like to stay in the background and instead direct attention to what they feel is most important: the chair, not the donation. Their vision for the chair is to forge a partnership between the industry and academia, engaging the next generation of business leaders and leveraging the talents of a nationally recognized researcher.

Alumnus Michael Paxton, the Weinels and UC President Nancy Zimpher.
Alumnus Michael Paxton, the Weinels and UC President Nancy Zimpher.

The gift grew out of collaboration—with hopes to encourage further partnership between the university and the sign industry. The collaboration began in June, with a call from College of Business alumnus Michael Paxton, chairman of Transport America. A director with Gemini, Paxton was interested in seeing UC partner with the sign industry — an industry that provides the backdrop of everyday life but often fades into the background. The relationship between the Weinels and CoB grew from there.

The gift also grew out of love. Sign companies are often family-run or privately owned businesses, and their interaction is frequently restricted to clients, vendors and industry professionals. The Weinels’ love for the sign industry, their desire to enhance its visibility and reputation in the broader community, and the couple’s great respect and affection for their friend James S. Womack that motivated them to make this gesture of philanthropy.

On Dec. 4, the Weinels were acknowledged in a ceremony at UC. “Today we celebrate the culmination of the generosity of the Weinels and the establishment of this chair, designed to launch partnership with the sign industry,” said CoB Dean Will McIntosh. “This gift entails a significant progression in the relationship between UC and the sign industry.”

At the ceremony, Karen Machleit, head of the College of Business Marketing Department, introduced the faculty member who will hold the James S. Womack/Gemini Chair of Signage and Visual Marketing — James Kellaris, professor of marketing and the Ronald J. Dornoff Teaching Fellow at the College of Business.

Kellaris’ nationally recognized research into the influences of music on consumers includes the effects of music in ads and retail environment and the “earworm” phenomenon. His work has appeared many times in top academic journals and he has become a frequent guest in the local, national and international media, including an appearance on the “Today” show. He has also received numerous awards for his scholarship and teaching, which are even more significant in light of his having spasmodic dysphonia, a disease of the vocal cords.

“The story of the Womack/Gemini Chair is one of collaboration, and of serendipity,” said Machleit. “When I first became involved with Mr. Paxton on visioning for this partnership, I immediately recognized that the expertise that James Kellaris possesses in the field of consumer psychology would make the ideal platform of knowledge for questions relevant to the sign industry.”

Machleit said that she could see that a partnership that reached beyond the boundaries of the work of a research chair would involve the expertise of multiple faculty colleagues within the marketing department and across the university.

Honoree James Kellaris says that signs are the oldest and most fundamental form of marketing communication.
Honoree James Kellaris says that signs are the oldest and most fundamental form of marketing communication.

Kellaris accepted the honor saying, "Signs are the oldest and most fundamental form of marketing communication. They serve important way-finding, informational, identity and branding functions. And yet, ironically, they have largely escaped the attention of marketing textbooks and scholarly journals. But, now through the generosity of the Weinels in partnership with the University of Cincinnati, this situation can be addressed to mutual benefit."
He then thanked the Weinels for their generosity and for their inspiring vision. “I’m grateful for the gift they’ve bestowed on our university and honored to occupy the chair they have created in honor of their friend and mentor James Womack,” Kellaris said. He pointed out that although he had just met the Weinels for the first time, unbeknownst to them this was actually the second time their paths had crossed.

“The first time was many years ago, when I was working my way through school as a clerk at a retail store in Atlanta,” Kellaris recounted. “Among my duties was to change the message on the marquee sign in front of the store. This involved removing and replacing big plastic letters, one at a time, using a large pole. Occasionally, I would drop one of those plastic letters. It would fall to the ground and break. And whenever that happened, I had two thoughts. The first thought was ‘dang – I guess we’re going to have to buy more letters now.’ And the second thought was ‘Y’know, I bet the guy who makes and sells these is doing well for himself.’

"As I would later learn, that suspicion turned out to be true. I continued to work, persisted in school, and put many letters behind my name as well as on the marquee sign,” added James Kellaris, AB, MSci, PhD. “Moreover, I learned one of life’s great lessons: When you run out of M’s, you can turn the W upside down.”

Kellaris at the American Sign Museum
CoB’s master’s of science in marketing students will be working with the American Sign Museum.

With the establishment of the Womack/Gemini Chair, the Weinels’ vision for a unique academic-industry partnership will yield not only relevant business research, but the ability to leverage university assets such as the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning and the College of Law. The American Sign Museum, of which Gemini, Inc., is a founding partner, is currently located in Mt. Auburn and will shortly be relocated to Camp Washington. The presence of this significant national cultural museum in the UC neighborhood will enhance opportunities for interaction with industry professionals for both faculty and students. CoB’s master’s of science in marketing students will be working with the American Sign Museum on a new location launch project during their MS-Marketing capstone course this winter and spring, working with Associate Professor Andrea Dixon.

Machleit says that research chairs are vital to the health of an academic department “because they allow us to attract and retain the very best faculty.”

“A strong College of Business faculty is critical to the University of Cincinnati as we move to achieve the goals of exceptional student-learning experiences and industry/community partnerships,” she adds. “This gift illustrates one of the ways that we can partner with industry to achieve mutual goals.”

About James and Sharon Weinel
James and Sharon Weinel are the generous founders of the James S. Womack/Gemini Chair of Signage and Visual Marketing. Through their business, Gemini, Inc., the Weinels have achieved entrepreneurial success in an industry that is very often in the background of our daily lives. While Jim started the existing Gemini, Inc., in 1963, the company he purchased out of bankruptcy actually began in 1933, working with sign professionals and architects to produce dimensional letters, logos and plaques. From injection-molded and thermoformed wood and cotton-based plastics to foundry-cast, laser- and water-jet cut metals, plastics and stone, Gemini produces the largest line of dimensional letters and logos in the world. They have manufacturing facilities across the United States and in several international locations. “The Weinels also recognize that great universities nurture the great ideas that impact the future of business and that from great universities come talented, skilled students who will be the next generation of business leaders.”

James Weinel at the American Sign Museum.
James Weinel at the American Sign Museum

About James Kellaris
James J. Kellaris is the Ronald J. Dornoff Fellow of Teaching Excellence. He is widely known as both a music scholar and business ethicist. His music research examines the affective, cognitive and behavioral influences of music on consumers, including effects of music in advertisements and retail environments, the hedonic consumption of music as an aesthetic product, the influence of music on time perception, and the "earworm" phenomenon. His ethics research examines contextual influences and judgmental biases in ethical decision making, and cross-cultural differences.
Kellaris has won a UC Faculty Achievement Award, the EXCEL Teaching Award, the Dornoff award, and AMA Outstanding Reviewer and Best Paper awards. His industry work thus far has included seminars and colloquia for G.E., Children's Hospital Medical Center, the Ohio Valley Life Center, Ssang Business Group, and he has taught numerous courses at UC’s sister universities in France, Canada and Australia.

About the University of Cincinnati
Ranked by the National Science Foundation among the top 25 public research universities in the United States, UC's faculty have distinguished themselves worldwide for their creative teaching and research. The University of Cincinnati serves a diverse enrollment of more than 36,500 students through a balance of educational excellence and real-world experience. Founded in 1819, UC is the largest employer in the Cincinnati region, with an economic impact of more than $3 billion.