Livingston County entrepreneur and philanthropist E. Philip Saunders remains focused on growing local business, supporting higher education and giving back to the community.
Saunders, 80, was honored recently with Rochester Institute of Technology’s 2017 Volunteer of the Year Award and a wall of honor that marks the 10th anniversary of his gift that would become the Saunders College of Business.
Saunders, president and CEO of Saunders Management Co., is widely known around campus as the namesake of Saunders College of Business. He has contributed $18 million to the college.
“He’s like a celebrity around here,” said Saunders College Dean Jacqueline Mozrall. “When students find out Phil’s in the building, they come up and says, ‘Can I meet him?’ They know about him, what he represents and aspire to be like him.”
Good luck keeping up. Saunders said he has no plans to retire and remains committed to helping RIT and the College of Business continue to grow.
“My relationship to this university goes way back, when I first owned TravelCenters of America and I had RIT students working for me at night and on weekends,” Saunders said. “I was impressed with their knowledge, skills and work ethic – and continue to believe that RIT continues to attract only the best and the brightest.”
Saunders is also the sponsor of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy Saunders Scholars Competition, which has taken placed the past two years at RIT.
“Philanthropy is part of a social investment,” Saunders said, “and one of my passions is to see young people succeed.”
As for himself: “I want to be remembered as being a good person who always gave my best in everything I did,” he said.
Saunders, an RIT trustee emeritus, was presented the Volunteer of the Year Award Oct. 13 at the President’s Alumni Ball during this year’s Brick City Homecoming and Family Weekend. He had previously received the Nathaniel Rochester Society award in 2011 and the Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award in 2005.
“Giving back to the community is an important thing to do for a person who has been successful,” said Saunders, a long-time resident of Livingston County.
In the past year, Saunders College has increased enrollment and achieved high rankings. Saunders also supports two annual four-year academic scholarships for a high school student in Livingston County who wants to major in business.
“Just the fact that they can come to a school like RIT guarantees them careers and job opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Saunders said.
Saunders said the top quality of a successful entrepreneur is capitalizing on “what you know best.”
His own business career is one of innovation. In 1958, Saunders’ vision to create an empire of truck stops – known today as the TravelCenters of America Inc. – led to a lifetime of diversified interests in energy, auto and truck rental, recreation and tourism, packaged foods, property management, banking and business ventures.
Saunders also enjoys healthy competition through physical challenges. At age 73, he paddled the Yukon in a 1,000-mile marathon to raise money for autism research. The “Sugar Creek Bears” came in fourth out of nine teams.
“There was no mutiny on board; things got a little disagreeable, but we did it,” Saunders said. “The physical side you can train for, the mental side you can’t.”
For exercise, Saunders likes to walk on his 3,400-acre farm.
“I like to watch things grow. I’m lucky to have had a great family,” said Saunders, who has been married to his wife Carole for 61 years, “and am happy with the way things turned out in my businesses, having a college named after me and knowing I continue to make a difference.”
Sparking ‘an interesting conversation’
When asked if he could invite three people – living or deceased – to dinner, E. Philip Saunders offered a businessman, a baseball player and a politician.
He said his choices would be Leon Hess, the late founder of the Hess Corporation; Stan Musial, the baseball Hall of Famer; and Newt Gingrich, a politician and former Speaker of the House.
“I think these three individuals – from business, sports and politics – would spark an interesting conversation,” Saunders said. “They are all innovators in their own right.”
– RIT News