As a cross-country/track and field (CC/T&F) walk-on for the Paladins, Chris Borch ’78 learned early on how to start from humble beginnings and dream big. Running last on the 12-man cross-country team, Borch rose through the ranks during his first year to the no. 2 spot, notched a freshman record time of 13 minutes, 51 seconds in the 3-mile, and earned a modest scholarship under then coach Bill Keesling.
In 1983, just five years after graduating Furman and earning his MBA at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the economics major used $600 to start a precision manufacturing company in the back of a hat factory in southeast Asia. That company, Micro-Mechanics Holdings, Ltd., now operates in five countries with 480 employees, is listed on the Singapore Exchange, and has a market capitalization of $200 million. And this year, the entrepreneur was recognized as CEO of the Year at the Singapore Corporate Awards.
It’s not by accident that Borch achieved the CEO honor, or that his company has won four other top accolades at one time or another at the Singapore awards – including CFO of the Year, Best Investor Relations and Best Managed Board among many other commendations.
Borch points to solid governance for the company’s success. More than a sea of red tape and regulations, governance, Borch said, is easy to understand when it’s couched in terms of the larger picture. “Whether you’re a business or a university, your overarching goal and purpose is to build value for your stakeholders.”
A former member of Furman’s board of trustees and an enthusiastic supporter of CC/T&F, Borch aims to bring his stakeholder-focused approach to his work with Furman. “When I look at how I can help the university, the biggest contributions I can make are those that benefit the primary stakeholders – the students, followed closely by faculty, administrators and other players.”
To that end, Borch and his wife, Andrea, sat down with former president David Shi in 2005 to map out a plan to bolster the track program by funding athletic scholarships and coaching positions. The conversation ended with a “handshake agreement” that the university would provide funding as donations came in.
Together, with gifts from the Borchs and many other stakeholders over the last 13 years, the thoughtfully-managed endowment funds for CC/T&F now total over $8 million, providing about $500,000 annually in scholarship aid.
Central to Borch’s dedication to Furman track is the drive to create meaningful and lasting value for athletes.
“Nobody majors in track … these are young men and women who come to study business or health or any number of disciplines,” he said. “So investments in the track program simply facilitate the process by which these athletes get a good education and then go on to do really great things.”
Borch likes the lessons the sport teaches like learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
“There are no shortcuts in distance running – you have to put in the work, and then you realize if you set a goal and don’t give up, you’re going to make progress,” he said. “And that’s the purpose of the university – to help give scholar-athletes essential components like a great classroom experience, soft skills and the ability to learn how to learn so they can pursue their fields with passion.”
The commitment to building and safeguarding stakeholder value is perhaps best underscored by the annual Stakeholders Dinner. The event, which takes place in fall semester, now draws up to 300 athletes, alumni and other friends. More than a reunion, the event is a reminder, Borch said, that a relatively non-revenue-generating sport like CC/T&F is simply not sustainable without outside funding.
Reflecting on five straight Southern Conference Cross-Country titles for both men and women, the successes of Allie Buchalski, Krissy Gear and other scholar-athletes on the national and international stages, Borch and head coach Robert Gary are clearly delighted with the outcomes.
“We’ve shown that you can take a big idea, work at it a dozen years and begin to see results,” Borch said.
Gary added, “The highlights we’ve achieved are even sweeter with Chris alongside to witness them.”
Last year, the Borchs contributed $1 million to support the 3,000-square-foot “Blue Shoes Track House,” set to open this season. Borch said you won’t see grandiose columns, fountains or marble in the facility, but it will be a fun space where athletes can train and escape bad weather. On the structure’s facade in bronze are the words that have become a mantra for Borch: “Set a goal, work hard and never give up!”
For more information, contact Assistant Sports Information Director Julie Paré at 864-294-3062 and firstname.lastname@example.org.