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Serial entrepreneur and philanthropist E. Philip Saunders remains focused on growing local businesses, supporting higher education and giving back to the community.
The president and CEO of Saunders Management Co., 80, is widely known around campus as the namesake of Saunders College of Business, to which he has contributed $18 million.
“He’s like a celebrity around here,” said Saunders College Dean Jacqueline Mozrall. “When students find out Phil’s in the building, they come up and say, ‘Can I meet him?’ They know about him, what he represents, and aspire to be like him.”
The RIT trustee emeritus has been named 2017 Volunteer of the Year and will be awarded the tribute at the Presidents 'Alumni Ball during this year’s Brick City Homecoming & Family Weekend. It’s the latest RIT honor for Saunders, who received the Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award in 2005 and the Nathaniel Rochester Society award in 2011.
“Giving back to the community is an important thing to do for a person who has been successful,” said Saunders, a longtime resident of Livingston County. “In the last decade, Saunders College has increased enrollment, attracted quality faculty and achieved high rankings. I’m particularly pleased in supporting the endowed business scholarships for two deserving students from my hometown each year. Just the fact that they can come to a school like RIT guarantees them careers and job opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Saunders believes the top quality of a successful entrepreneur is capitalizing on “what you know best.” He said that if he could invite three people to dinner, living or deceased “they would be Leon Hess, the late founder of the Hess Corporation; Stan Musial, legendary baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals; and Newt Gingrich, American politician and former Speaker of the House.”
“I think these three individuals—from business, sports and politics—would spark an interesting conversation; they are all innovators in their own right.”
Saunders could easily be included in the innovation category.
In 1958, Saunders’ vision to create an empire of truck stops known today as the TravelCenters of America Inc. led to a lifetime of diversified interests in energy, auto and truck rental, recreation and tourism, packaged foods, property management, banking and business ventures. Saunders also enjoys healthy competition through physical challenges. At age 73, he took the Arctic plunge and paddled the Yukon in a 1,000-mile marathon to raise money for autism research. The “Sugar Creek Bears” came in at a very respectable fourth place out of nine teams. “There was no mutiny on board; things got a little disagreeable but we did it. The physical side you can train for, the mental side you can’t,” he said.
His exercise routine includes walking on his 3,400-acre farm. “I like to watch things grow. I’m lucky to have had a great family (celebrating 61 years with his wife Carole)—and am happy with the way things turned out in my businesses, having a college named after me and knowing I continue to make a difference.
“I want to be remembered as being a good person who always gave my best in everything I did.”
E. Philip Saunders is among several alumni being honored this year by The RIT Alumni Association, including:
Outstanding Alumnus of 2017: Brooks Bower ’74 (printing)