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Judy and Steve Zelnak, Jr., make $4 million gift to create Dean’s Chair in Poole College

Randall Woodson, chancellor of the NC State University, announced that Judy and Steve Zelnak have made a $4 million gift to establish a Dean’s Chair in the NC State Poole College of Management, the first endowed Dean’s Chair at the university.

“With their gift, Judy and Steve have made a tremendous investment in the university and the future of Poole College,” said Dr. Ira Weiss, dean of the Poole College of Management at NC State and inaugural recipient of the Stephen P. Zelnak Jr. Dean’s Chair. “I am very honored to be the college’s first dean to hold this position." 

The Zelnaks’ gift was structured to provide discretionary funds for the dean to use immediately to continue building the college program now as well as endowed funds for future use.

“Judy and Steve have created a vital, lasting legacy that provides essential resources for recruiting, retaining and rewarding the most distinguished of academic leaders in management education,” Weiss said. “Their gift is truly an investment in the future of the college, one that creates a very attractive position for the most appropriate person to lead the college into the future.”

Steve Zelnak, former chairman and chief executive officer (retired) of Martin Marietta Materials, a leading producer of construction aggregates, dolomitic lime, and magnesia chemicals headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., has been active in the life of the college for nearly two decades.

Zelnak has served on the Poole College Board of Advisors for about 15 years and eight years on the NC State Board of Visitors. He previously established the Zelnak Professorship and scholarships in Poole College, and has been one of the college’s Wells Fargo Executive Series presenters. In 2010, the college named him its Person of the Year.


In an interview with NC State University Communications, Zelnak spoke about his and Judy’s decision to support Poole College with the endowed Dean’s Chair in the Poole College of Management.

“It starts with people and particularly it starts with leadership,” Zelnak said in the interview. “We are very impressed with what Chancellor Randy Woodson has done in the short period of time he’s been at NC State. He’s restructured, reorganized. He’s put the university on a different course … an upward trajectory.”

About Poole College, he said: “Ira Weiss has been there as dean now for about nine years. I’ve known him throughout that period of time. I think he has consistently moved the program ahead. I’m very, very impressed with how he does it – a lot of quiet leadership. He has made the Poole College of Management a very competitive entity within the college of management world.”

“It’s a dynamic environment, and if you’re not moving aggressively ahead, you’re slipping backwards,” Zelnak said. “So, we thought it was very important to get Dean Weiss additional resources to work with … to invest in whatever he thinks is most important, most strategic to the college.”

The discretionary funds can support recruitment of faculty and students, as well as enhance the student experience through greater participation in competitions and other developmental events. “My guess is he’ll have some tough choices to make, but that’s what outstanding leaders do,” Zelnak said. 

As with those holding the Zelnak Professorship, Weiss will be debriefing the Zelnaks periodically on how their investment is impacting the college. “(Ira) has total latitude in terms of where he puts the investment, and I have the confidence in him that he’s going to be very strategic about it, try to lift up the entire college program – faculty, students, administrators, everything that it takes to move it forward.”

Thinking back to Weiss’s arrival at NC State, Zelnak said in the interview, “I’ll tell you in all honesty when he came here, I wasn’t so sure how that was going to work. Ira has a heavy Northeastern accent and this is the South. I met him and I said ‘hmmm, we’re going to have to see about this.’ But what happened pretty quickly … he’s a very bright guy. He’s extremely personable … projects very, very well, and in short order I think he had captured his audience. He had good plans to take the College of Management forward and people all of a sudden forgot about that Northeastern accent. And he was accepted very quickly, very readily, and you know he’s moved forward from there and I think (has) just done an outstanding job.”


When arriving in Raleigh 32 years ago to join Martin Marietta, Zelnak said, he and Judy “came to the conclusion that NC State was the best fit for us. If you look at the student body, it’s a group of young people who come from modest or middle class backgrounds, highly motivated; nothing’s ever been given to them. They work extremely hard. They’re very practical; NC State is very practical, and that’s something that appeals to me greatly,” Zelnak said, noting that he also had worked his way through college.

“These are kids who are … going to make it … and they’re going to be great employees for whatever company chooses to hire them,” Zelnak said. “At Martin Marietta, which I ran for 27 years, we focused on and hired a lot of NC State graduates. Some in engineering, but particularly lately out of the college of management, and they have done very, very well within our company; great work ethic, smart people.” 


The Zelnaks are also supporters of Georgia Tech, Steve Zelnak’s alma mater. They previously established a dean’s chair at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business and generously supported the Zelnak Basketball Practice Facility at the university.

In the Raleigh area, the Zelnaks recently invested in the Judy D. Zelnak Center for Hope, the new Salvation Army building off of Capital Boulevard in Raleigh, N.C. With all their philanthropic activities, Zelnak says, “At the end of the day, it’s back to people. What are they going to do with the resources to have impact in terms of their mission?”




NC State Communications: Powerful Philanthropy

NC State Giving: A Historic Gift for NC State

Ira Weiss is inaugural recipient of Stephen P. Zelnak Jr. Dean's Chair


About Poole College

Established in 1992 and named in 2010, the Poole College of Management prepares students for today's technology driven global marketplace with an emphasis practical, applied learning and international experiences. The college offers bachelor's degrees in accounting, business administration and economics with concentrations that allow specializing in the diverse fields of business.The college's Jenkins Graduate school, named in 2007, includes the Jenkins MBA, Master of Accounting, Master of Global Innovation Management and a specialized focus on global luxury management, and a specialized master in supply chain engineering and managment offered jointly with NC State's College of Engineering. The college offers masters and a doctoral program in economics jointly with NC State's College of Agriculture and Life Science. Active engagement with business and industry is reflected in the college's centers and initiatives in biosciences management, consumer innovation, enterprise risk management, entrepreneurship, innovation management, supply chain management, and sustainability, its Executive Programs, and other outreach and engagement opportunities.