A Man of Vision
By Laura Lane
Gill grew up in a poor family in a small, blue-collar Texas town. Throughout his life, he has always remembered what his father - heavy-equipment operator Samuel Gill, who didn't get past sixth grade in school - told his six children: Get a good education because that would open doors to opportunity.
It certainly was so with his son Jack, recipient of IU's College of Arts and Sciences 2001 Distinguished Alumni Award, which he received during a recognition banquet on Nov. 9. He was recognized as a man with vision who turned knowledge and hard work into successful enterprises.
Gill was the janitor at his church by age 10 and put himself through college, graduating with honors, by working 40 hours a week at a grocery store. He could not afford to attend medical school, so came to IU on fellowships as a teaching assistant. He bypassed the master's program and earned a PhD in four years.
"A born leader, teacher, and entrepreneur, he has been successful in more careers than imaginable, but he has never forgotten that education played the biggest part in his successes," Ernest R. Davidson, IU Distinguished Professor of chemistry, said in nominating Gill for the award.
IU President Myles Brand wrote of Gill's undaunted ascent toward excellence. "He has combined scientific insight, great entrepreneurial skill, and a fearless pioneering spirit with a dedication to learning and to pushing forward the boundaries of scientific knowledge," said Brand, who values the range of diverse knowledge that comes with a liberal arts education. "Jack Gill's remarkable success in the global business community speaks volumes in that regard."
Gill, born in Lufkin, Texas, in 1936, graduated fifth in a class of 129 students at Lufkin High School in 1954. He then studied chemistry and engineering at Lamar University before coming to IU for his PhD because of its outstanding reputation in chemistry. From there, he began his professional career as a researcher. After other jobs and challenges, he eventually moved to California's Silicon Valley and became an entrepreneur - a business founder first, then a venture capitalist.
Gill credits his success to several major factors: the quality education he received at Lamar and Indiana universities; hard work, discipline, and determined pursuit; his wife's support and assistance; and a lot of luck, quality partners, and help along the way.He first worked as a senior research chemist at Monsanto and as a director of research and engineering for Varian Associates. While there, he wrote 50 technical papers and lectured around the world on chromatography and advances in instrumentation.
At age 33, he founded a business called Autolab, which pioneered the application of microprocessor-based instruments and computers for chromatography labs.
"Jack quickly noted that these sophisticated instruments generate large quantities of data, and saw a niche for small, dedicated computers specifically designed to analyze the raw data and print out complete analytical reports," said Marvin Carmack, IU chemistry professor emeritus, with whom Gill did his doctoral research on sulfur compounds.
"The computer industry had overlooked this application."
Gill then became executive vice president and group manager of the scientific divisions at Spectra Physics, a manufacturer of lasers, laboratory computers, and chromatography instruments.
Today, Gill is the founder and general partner of Vanguard Venture Partners, a venture capital firm started in 1981 that is located in Palo Alto, Calif., and Houston, Texas. The company specializes in starting high-technology businesses.
Gill's university and community connections are many. He was president of the Lamar University Foundation board of trustees from 1988 to 1991 and currently is a member of IU's Kelley School of Business Dean's Advisory Council and the College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Advisory Board. He also is a member of the IU Foundation board of directors.
Gill often finds time for a return to the classroom in hopes of teaching students a thing or two. He serves as an adjunct chemistry professor at IU and also at Rice University. He is on the Harvard Medical School faculty and serves as an adviser to the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology in Boston.
He and his wife of 32 years gave $5 million to IU in 1997 to establish the Gill Center for Biomolecular Measurement, a multi-disciplinary program combining biology, chemistry, physics, geological sciences, cognitive science, and other fields that require the latest in precise measurements. The gift was the largest ever designated for science programs at the College and kicked off a campaign to raise funds for endowments for students and faculty on the Bloomington campus.
Also in 1997, the Gills established the Gill Foundation of Texas.
Another $5 million gift in 1997 went to help build The Gill Heart Institute and establish three endowed chairs in cardi-ology, 10 endowed professorships, and research programs at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington. Linda Gill, whose father was an accountant and whose mother was from tobacco-growing stock, grew up in Kentucky and attended UK on a scholarship.
The Gills' interests span beyond science to the arts. In 1999, after viewing an IU performance by conductor Kurt Masur, the Gills donated $500,000 to the IU School of Music to establish a conducting professorship. The Gills also gave $15,000 to sponsor IU's 1999 summer opera theater's production of Puccini's La Bohème. In 2001 the Gills provided $1.1 million for a chair in violin, Steinway pianos, and other projects.
The donations to IU and UK are among many that reflect the Gills' generosity and interest in promoting education. Since 1984, the family has given more than $25 million to support education at 14 colleges and universities and several high schools.
In 1999, Gill was a winner of the Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans. The award is given to men and women who have faced and overcome personal adversity through hard work, integrity, determination, and a strong dedication to helping others.
A brochure for the Gill Foundation sums up the family's philosophy, saying they are "committed to giving back to the system that provided us so much opportunity."
Gill Center Supports Research in Biomolecular Measurement
Five years ago, Jack and Linda Gill gave $5 million to Indiana University to establish the Gill Center for Biomolecular Measurement on the Bloomington campus.
The gift includes funding for five endowed faculty chairs in several departments within the College of Arts and Sciences. Five graduate fellowships and several undergraduate fellowships also are part of the package and will help promote research in this growing field.
The purpose of the center is to allow scientists and technologists to mix their specialties together as they assess measurement needs and develop the instrumentation necessary to carry out the process.
Data from specialized instruments must be converted into knowledge, but scientists sometimes are not skilled in the design and use of specialized measurement devices.
The center's mission statement says that it was established to foster "the understanding of complex biological processes and to help train future generations of scientists who will define the state of the art in biomolecular measurements."
IU President Myles Brand praised the center as "a linchpin in a group of recently developed initiatives that include our newly established School of Informatics, the Informatics Research Institute, and the Indiana Pervasive Computing Research Initiative. These programs further strengthen IU's leadership position as one of the premier institutions in the nation, committed to building on the synergistic relationships among instrumentation, measurements, information technology, and informatics."