John and Karen Arnold endow Penn State Smeal dean’s chair

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Business leaders and philanthropists John and Karen Arnold have made a $5 million commitment to Penn State to endow the John and Karen Arnold Dean’s Chair in the Penn State Smeal College of Business, where John earned his MBA degree in 1987.

The chair will provide discretionary funding for the current dean, Charles H. Whiteman, and his successors to support strategic initiatives and other high-priority needs for the college.

Penn State Smeal becomes the University’s eighth college to have a named dean’s chair, joining the Eberly College of Science and the Colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Arts and Architecture, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Engineering, Health and Human Development and the Liberal Arts.

A similar philanthropic investment supports the chancellor’s chair at Penn State Abington.

“A strong dean is integral to the success of our students and faculty, and I am deeply grateful to John and Karen Arnold for their gift to create a named dean’s chair for the Smeal College of Business,” said Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi. “Their generous gift will help Smeal’s deans pursue bold initiatives that prepare our students to be exceptional business leaders and support innovative faculty research that can shape the future of business.”

John Arnold said this gift was a way both to benefit Penn State and to show their appreciation to Whiteman for “his great leadership over the last decade.”

“So many times, gifts are targeted to specific initiatives. But Karen and I understand how important it can be to have a flexible pool of money to pursue important priorities,” he said. “Our gift is one way we can support Dean Whiteman’s vision for business education now. But it will also help ensure that Penn State can continue to recruit leaders who will advance Smeal’s mission well into the future, which was also important to us.”

Whiteman said it is an honor to be the inaugural recipient of the John and Karen Arnold Dean’s Chair.

“The Arnolds are among Smeal’s most ardent supporters. Their giving through the years has had such a meaningful impact on our students and faculty, and I am both humbled by and grateful for their confidence in our work and our mission,” he said.

Going forward, Whiteman’s official title will be the John and Karen Arnold Dean of the Smeal College of Business.

John Arnold earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Grove City College in 1985 before enrolling at Penn State. He joined Petroleum Products Corporation, a family business founded by his great-grandfather in 1924, after completing his MBA and was president and CEO of the firm when it was sold in 2015 with more than $3 billion in annual sales.

He started PPC Lubricants, the fourth-largest lubrication distributor in the United States, in the early 2000s and was chairman and CEO until he sold the company last year.  

Karen Arnold graduated from Cedar Crest College, a small liberal arts college for women in Allentown, in 1981 and began her career as a sales assistant and registered representative for Johnston, Lemon and Co. Inc., an institutional brokerage firm located in Washington, D.C.

In 2015, she retired from her position as assistant to the vice president of transportation at PVH Corp., which owns clothing brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Warner’s, Olga and True & Co.

The Arnolds are no strangers to the power of philanthropy and enjoy spending time supporting causes that are important to them. Karen serves as president of the Kindness Coalition, a charitable family foundation the couple founded in 2015. The Kindness Coalition provides funding and support to nonprofit human health and social service organizations, primarily in central Pennsylvania, to improve the quality of life for individuals in need.

Since its inception, the foundation has awarded millions in grants.

“We see so much need in the area, and it’s incredibly rewarding to support these organizations in their mission to improve lives,” Karen said. “We find great satisfaction in this work and all of our volunteer endeavors.”

John joined the Smeal Board of Visitors in 2001 and was named a Penn State Presidential Counselor in 2019. He is on the executive committee of the Vail Valley Foundation, where he serves as the finance and investment chair, and the board of Alvernia University, located in Reading, where he chairs the innovation subcommittee. He has previously served on the boards of the Harrisburg Area YMCA and Sovereign Bancorp Inc.

John was honored with the Penn State Alumni Fellow Award in 2004, the Smeal Distinguished Achievement Award in 2008 and Penn State’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the University’s highest honor, in 2019.

Karen serves on the Board of Trustees of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Foundation and also serves on the Foundation Board of Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center. 

They have generously supported the Smeal College of Business through philanthropic giving aimed to assist students and faculty in the Department of Management and Organization, the Department of Finance, and the MBA program. Across the University, the Arnolds have supported scholarships and other needs in areas including Intercollegiate Athletics, Penn State Health and The Arboretum at Penn State. 

John said that he and Karen use their philanthropy as a way to make a difference for others.

“If, like me, you have pride in a place like Penn State,” he said, “I’d encourage everyone to lean into that and try to make it a better place than when you left it.”

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