Alumnus of the Year - J. Christopher Burch '72

Chris was introduced to Tilton when he first arrived on campus as a ninth grader in the fall of 1968. A four-year student from Pennsylvania, Chris was active on the hockey, soccer, tennis and ski teams, serving as captain for both varsity soccer and tennis during his senior year.  A member of the chess and Ping-Pong clubs, a writer for The Tiltonian and an honor roll student, Chris did what we hope of all of our students – he threw himself into the Tilton experience without reserve.
Chris found his way back to the Hill not long after his graduation in 1972, serving on the Board of Trustees from 1982-1985.

It was during the time in-between, however, that Chris would first hone his skills as an entrepreneur.  While still an undergraduate at Ithaca College, Chris and his brother, Bob, started Eagle’s Eye apparel with an initial investment of $2,000. The name was an homage to their father, whose nickname was Eagle. Fueling the burgeoning preppy craze, Eagle’s Eye designed and sold women’s, men’s and children’s sweaters adorned with embroidered motifs. When the very first shipment of sweaters arrived smaller than expected, Burch and his brother—selling door to door on and around their college campus—actually convinced women that the snug fit was stylish. During the next decade, Eagle’s Eye expanded to national distribution, including more than 50 of the brand’s own retail stores. Eagle’s Eye was partially sold to Swire Group in 1989 and entirely in 1998 in a deal that valued the brand at $60 million.

Today, Chris is still most well known for his role in the business world.  In his 30-plus years as an investor, brand builder and entrepreneur, he has guided the rise of more than 50 companies, including the luxury lifestyle brand Tory Burch of which he was the co-founder. Chris has redefined innovation, essentially cornering the market in the retail and lifestyle brand industries. He is the founder and CEO of Burch Creative Capital, a firm with offices in New York City and Shanghai, China.  Today the investment portfolio of his firm includes wearable devices company Jawbone; office supplies innovator Poppin; wireless phone charger Powermat; and fashion brands BaubleBar jewelery and Chubbies shorts. His most recent venture is a 50-50 partnership with well known talk show host Ellen DeGeneres – the two are currently collaborating on a housewares, clothing and pet toy line know as “The E.D.” 
But as a proud father of five children, it’s not surprising that Chris most animatedly speaks of his support of the Nihiwatu Resort on the remote Indonesian Island of Sumba, purchased with his three teenage sons in mind.  In an area where most villagers go without the sparse resource of running water or electricity, Chris has vowed that any profits made from the luxury resort will be returned to the charitable Sumba Foundation to help the community in the fight against its very real threat of malaria and to ensure cleaning drinking water remains available.  In the meantime, the resort also provides a place of steady employment for locals.   
It should by clear by now that Chris Burch is a very successful businessman but a better person – much of which he readily attributes to his own Tilton Experience. 
“Tilton School proved a pivotal point in my life,” he said during the dedication of Burch Field this past October.  “The overwhelming sense of family that resonates here, that’s what I remember most,” he remarked.  “I’m always proud to be a part of Tilton School.”
 Tilton School has been very blessed by Chris’ generosity with a number of athletic field updates, scholarships and most recently, funding of the Burch Field and of the Burch Initiative.  Along the way he also inspired so many others to give back. 

A loyal Annual Fund supporter, Chris took it a leap further this past fall and pushed all of us to ‘think big’ about the future of our school by offering the Burch Initiative as a $750,000 matching gift challenge.  He shared the hope, “Imagine what we can do if we all pull together?”  And we saw what happened – the completion of a successful initiative – raising over $1.5 million thanks to Chris and many of you. An initiative that allows Tilton School to realize our long-term dream of a first-rate athletic facility adjacent to campus but just as importantly, to energize the entire Tilton community thanks to Chris’ urging.   

Chris’ dedication to Tilton School is unparalleled.  He is a shining example of how one individual can make a tremendous difference in the lives of so many.  A role model for his fellow alumni, faculty and staff, and students alike, Chris has seen Tilton School through countless changes helping it to grow into the leading institution it is today.  It is a distinct honor to pay tribute to Chris’ selflessness by awarding him Tilton’s highest honor – Alumnus of the Year.