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  Bill and Kathryn Guthrie
  Bill and Kathryn Guthrie built an impressive real-estate firm. They and their family also forged strong Kellogg loyalties.

Theory into practice

Guthrie family creates 'real' legacy with Kellogg research center

By Rebecca Lindell

Lou, who had earned an undergraduate degree in math from Northwestern University, wanted to work in business, but companies didn't seem to be hiring women managers at the time. So she worked for a while as a schoolteacher, but the desire to own and run something did not go away.

One day Lou told her husband that she thought they should buy an apartment building. "That's the dumbest idea I ever heard!" Bill responded. But Lou won the day, and the couple made their first real-estate investment in Evanston. "Of course, that turned out to be the smartest thing we ever did," Bill says today.

Indeed. That apartment building was the first of many real-estate investments for the Guthries, who, as Winnetka, Ill.-based Guthrie Partners L.P., continue to buy and sell commercial properties across the nation. Their current holdings include properties in suburban Chicago, Indiana, Colorado and Minnesota.

For many years, though, real estate was just a side business for the Guthries, albeit an increasingly profitable and fascinating one. Bill, who had been an engineering undergrad at Northwestern, worked as a management consultant and earned an MBA through the Kellogg part-time program. Lou, meanwhile, raised the couple's two children and kept the books for the business.

By the mid-1980s, Lou decided that it was time for her to get some formal business training too. She had heard good things about the Kellogg Executive MBA Program. She enrolled in 1984 and dove joyfully into the curriculum.

"I could write all my papers in relation to our real-estate business, and set up our plans for the future," she recalls. "It was the luxury of my life."

The Guthries' eldest son, Bruce Guthrie '92, also earned his MBA at Kellogg, as did his late wife, Grace Garvin Guthrie '86. Bruce, during his summer internship between his two years at Kellogg, founded a summer adventure program for incoming students. The program, now known as Kellogg Worldwide Experiences and Service Trips, or KWEST, draws about 500 participants annually. In 2000, another daughter-in-law, Christine, marched across the stage to accept her diploma from then-dean Donald P. Jacobs while cradling the Guthries' five-week-old twin grandsons in her arms.

Grateful for the education the family received from Kellogg, the Guthries looked for opportunities to give back. The couple considered endowing a chair in the real estate program. But Jacobs had another suggestion that would magnify the impact of the gift: additional funding to strengthen the school's real-estate research center.

"We felt that real estate would be a much more important sector of the economy in years to come," Jacobs says. "We wanted Kellogg to be a leader in the field." The center was renamed in 1995 in honor of the Guthries' gift.

Today, the Guthrie Center for Real Estate Research leads studies on real estate markets, finance, project management and development. It supports an executive speaker series and helps Kellogg students find summer and full-time jobs in the real-estate field. It also participates in an annual Kellogg conference that serves as a forum on real-estate issues and trends.

The center has given the Guthries the chance to stay engaged with Kellogg students, who clearly continue to inspire the couple. Bill enjoys meeting with students in small groups over lunch, while Lou has served as a mentor to Kellogg real-estate majors.

"They're wonderful and enthusiastic young people," Lou enthuses.            

"What I like is the creativity that emerges when they work together in a group," Bill adds. "They just have marvelously inventive ideas."

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