Gideon Yu, ’93, broke barriers as the first president of color in the history of the National Football League. He became the first Asian American to own a football team. He has held senior positions at several of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies.
All of that that might never have happened without the donors who provided his scholarship to attend Stanford.
“You can’t see my face right now,” said Yu in a phone interview, “but it’s emotional. They allowed me to go to the school of my dreams.”
Together with his wife, Susie, Yu has now made a significant commitment to undergraduate scholarships. He said he hopes their gift will help pave the road to good fortune for others.
Beg, Steal, or Borrow
Back when he received his acceptance letter from Stanford, Yu didn’t know if his parents would be able to afford tuition, room, and board. He and his family had moved from Seoul to Nashville so his father could attend seminary at Vanderbilt University. Paying for Stanford seemed out of the question.
His father mailed in the acceptance letter for him anyway. “Even if we have to beg, steal, or borrow,” the minister told his son, “we’ll find a way.”
Luckily, Yu’s financial aid letter arrived a few weeks later, and his father’s promise never had to be tested.
“A Utopia for Geeks”
Yu arrived on campus in 1989 to discover a place that celebrated excellence in all its forms, including science and engineering. He said it was a welcome antidote to high school life.
“Stanford is a place where you can feel free to be as smart and as talented as you can be, with no worry about fitting in. As a matter of fact, that’s how you fit in,” he said. “It’s almost a utopia for geeks.”
After graduating with a degree in industrial engineering and attending Harvard Business School, Yu embarked on a career in Silicon Valley that included positions at Yahoo!, Facebook, YouTube, and several venture capital firms.
He joined the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 as the chief strategic officer and later became president and co-owner. While serving as the team’s president, he helped secure funding for the new Levi’s Stadium, which opened in Santa Clara this August.
Yu said he remains grateful for his Stanford experience and now wants to pay it forward. In addition to providing financial support, he is volunteering as a member of the School of Engineering Advisory Council and the School of Earth Sciences Task Force.
“As every day goes by, I appreciate Stanford even more. Which is crazy, because I never thought that I could appreciate Stanford more,” he said.