- Honorary Degree (1997)
Doctor of Laws
Presenter: Myles Neil Brand
BIOGRAPHYJose Vilarasau has made significant contributions to business and society through his work as a European financial leader and one of Spain's leading philanthropists. But he is also a true world citizen who is helping to groom the next generation of global leaders.
Vilarasau is president and chief executive officer of the Barcelona Savings and Pensions Bank— known as "la Caixa"—a Spanish financial power with more than 15,000 employees, 3,000 branches, and assets equivalent to more than $75 billion in U.S. currency.
But banking is not the only endeavor associated with "la Caixa." The bank each year contributes 50 percent of its profits to its own foundation. This philanthropic endeavor supports a wide array of projects and institutions battling social problems and promoting science, the environment, music, and the visual arts. It undertakes global issues such as the fight against AIDS. Yet it also offers very personalized education through projects such as "environment backpacks," designed to help children explore their surroundings. Foundation activities are estimated to reach 7 million people in Spain in year.
Since 1985, Indiana University has administered the "la Caixa" Graduate Fellowship Program, which promises to take Vilarasau's vision into the twenty-first century. The program each year selects 40 of Spain's leading scholars for a two-year program of study in the United States. Bloomington is the first stop for these scholars, who range from physicians and physicists to painters and musicians. While here, they benefit from an in-depth orientation to American life and graduate study. After they return home from their work at top universities across the United States, they become leaders in their fields.
Indiana University faculty travel to Spain to help select the fellows. George Hettenhouse, chair of the MBA program and the James and Virginia Cozad Professor of Finance at the IU School of Business, made the trip in 1993. "I was simply amazed by the quality of people I met at the bank and in the interviews," he said. "It is clear that the 'la Caixa' Program is an outstanding example of how the private sector can make a difference in the future of the society."
Vilarasau, the man behind the many aspects of "la Caixa," was born in Barcelona in 1931. He holds a bachelor's degree in economic sciences and business from the University of Barcelona and a doctorate in industrial engineering from the Higher School of Industrial Engineering at the Polytechnical University of Catalonia. He also has studied internationally, receiving postgraduate diplomas in economic and monetary policy from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom in 1961. Before his move to the savings bank industry, he had a distinguished civil service career that culminated with two years as director general of CAMPSA, Spain's state-owned petroleum company. Vilarasau has long been a friend of Indiana University, serving as one of the founding members of the IU International Council. As Patrick O'Meara, IU Dean of International Programs, has noted: "Senor Vilarasau is a world class leader whose understanding of and commitment to higher education is clear. He is a true visionary."