Business partners and serial entrepreneurs Tom Cunnington, MBA’63, and his wife, Laurie, consider themselves fortunate for the successes they have had. But long before the two met, married, and experienced success, they each believed strongly in helping others. “Before we had any money, philanthropy was important in our lives,” says Tom.
As a young girl on a family trip to Cuba, Laurie was told not to give money to people who were begging, but when she arrived, the 8-year-old could not stop herself. She saw a boy among the people who were asking for money from tourists. “He came running, barefoot, down the hill, and he took his hat off, and no one was giving him anything,” she says. “I opened my little yellow purse, took all my money, and put it in his hat, and he ran back up the hill. I remember it so vividly. It was the first time that I did what I thought was right, even though adults were telling me not to do it.”
When Tom was a lieutenant during the Korean War, he saw the devastating effects of the conflict. “There were so many children who were orphans, and I started to give to the orphanages, and the rest of my platoon gave, too,” he says. “We’d buy Hershey bars for the kids. These were guys who were making very little money, but we all gave because it was the right thing to do.”
After serving in the Army, Tom earned a degree in mechanical engineering, but he already had his eye on a business career. So he enrolled at Babson, thanks to a scholarship. Tom and Laurie created and eventually sold several companies. Intrigued by an opportunity in energy, they partnered with a wildcatter in Indiana and Illinois and started to drill for oil. The couple purchased the Ward Williston Oil Company in 1989. They revitalized its existing, depleted wells, expanded operations in North Dakota, and turned it into a multimillion dollar company.
As a result of their accomplishments, the Cunningtons have been able to continue to give generously. But their desire to give is not a result of their success; rather, it’s rooted in the deep Christian faith that they share. “Sometimes I hear people say, ‘When I am successful like you are, I’m going to give back,’” says Laurie, “but the important thing is to give.”
Through the Cunnington Foundation, the couple supports programs that offer resources and education to poor children in the city of Pontiac, near where they live in suburban Michigan. The couple also visited Mozambique in the years following its civil war. They saw famine, widespread despair and suffering, and many children dying from severe malnourishment. To help, they support JAM (Joint Aid Management), an organization that provides food, education, and sustainable development in Africa.
Grateful for Tom’s scholarship, the Cunningtons last year donated to Babson’s Office of Faith and Service. Their gift helps students connect spirituality to their growth as entrepreneurial leaders and explore ethics and values in the context of their faith. It also provides opportunities for service, an annual spiritual retreat, and for regular student worship nights, which are attended by more than 60 students.
Lisa Thomas, P’17, director of the Office of Faith and Service, notes that the enhanced programming was created at the request of the students. “Tom and Laurie listened carefully to what the students were asking for,” she says, “and they tailored their gift to support the things that would strengthen fellowship and participation in a spiritual community committed to global social responsibility.” —Jeff Stupakevich, manager, advancement communications