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Thursday, June 4, 2020

Who are Borsari and Kaiser?

By Erasmus Baxter

Grace Borsari and Fred Kaiser have a 23-year relationship with Western that began during the years of the illicit deductions.

“They’ve been our partners and part of the family for a really long time,” Stephanie Bowers, the foundation head, told the board of trustees as they considered the naming decision. (For more about Borsari and Kaiser’s donations to Western and the STEM building that is expected to bear their names, see WWU donors cheated IRS.)

The European-born business partners, who federal prosecutors noted were close enough to share employees between their corporations and co-sign joint bank accounts, met in Vancouver, B.C., at night school and co-founded Alpha Technologies in 1975 to tap into growing Canadian cable markets, according to a Western Today profile. In 1976 they opened shop in Bellingham with an eye on U.S. markets, Borsari told Bellingham Pulse.

Since then, their corporations have grown dramatically. The Bellingham Pulse profile noted that Alpha — sold in 2018 — overall was the largest privately owned business based in Whatcom County, with more than 1,000 employees worldwide and $800 million in revenue.

Their relationship with Western has also grown. Bowers told the board the pair began by providing equipment to Western, then multiple “gold standard” scholarships of $5,000 a year. A 2015 $1 million donation to Western’s Institute for Energy Studies brought their giving to over $2 million, and resulted in naming rights for the Alpha Technologies Electrical Engineering Lab.

At 2013 spring commencement, the pair received Western’s highest public honor — the president’s award.

The board of trustees noted their companies have offered jobs and internships to many Western alumni and that the two have encouraged company leaders to serve on Western advisory boards and committees.

The pairs’ charitable giving also extends to Canadian universities. An electrical and computer engineering building at the University of British Columbia bears Kaiser’s name, following a $4 million donation.

Borsari and Kaiser’s donations to Western have in many ways focused on areas related to their business interests, but the Western Today noted they have also focused attention on women and others underrepresented in engineering and related fields.

Borsari told Bellingham Pulse her adaptive skills and mental toughness helped her succeed in a male-dominated business environment. 

“There were legal advantages for a female-owned business, which gave me a foot in the door, she said. “But I also was playing with big guys and I knew how to play by their rules.”

This story originated from an anonymous tip. As we follow this story and do additional reporting, feel free to contact us with relevant information about this or Western’s fundraising in general at westernfrontonline@gmail.com, 360-650-3162 or via mail at 516 High St. CF 222 Bellingham, WA 98225. Please use a personal email and device.

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