By Savannah Koplon
J. Frank Barefield Jr., president of Abbey Residential and chairman of Crime Stoppers of Metro Alabama, has given a $10 million gift to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, committing $5 million to name the UAB J. Frank Barefield Jr. Department of Criminal Justicein the College of Arts and Sciencesand $5 million to name the UAB J. Frank Barefield Jr. Entrepreneurship Program in the Collat School of Business. It is the single largest gift given to UAB from an alumnus in the university’s history, a legacy intended to reduce crime and drive economic growth in Birmingham.
Furthermore, this gift will also name endowed faculty positions to recruit and retain top faculty in perpetuity, including the J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Endowed Chair in Criminal Justice and the J. Frank Barefield, Jr. Endowed Professorship in Entrepreneurship.
“I thought it was time I started helping others — UAB is where I received my MBA, and I am very appreciative of the benefits obtaining that degree has provided me,” Barefield said. “It is a real sense of accomplishment to get an education and use what one learned to give back to one’s alma mater. Our economy and our standard of living depend upon business — both existing businesses and the creation of new businesses, which create opportunities for everyone to work and make a better and more rewarding life for their families. The more people can give to educational institutions which will expand the new business horizon, the better.”
Barefield’s gift is more than just an investment in two programs; it is an investment in UAB as a whole — the state’s biggest economic engine — and will bridge multidisciplinary expertise in criminal justice and entrepreneurship to better the lives of all Birmingham residents by making the city safer for future innovation, entrepreneurship and business growth.
“UAB is deeply grateful for this transformational gift from one of our most successful and visionary alumni,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “Frank Barefield is widely respected for his remarkable accomplishments as an entrepreneur and business leader as well his strong advocacy of public safety, so it is very fitting that both our Department of Criminal Justice and our Entrepreneurship Program will bear his name. This generous gift will bring tremendous strides in recruiting and retaining top faculty and students, accelerating research and development of new programs, creating additional jobs and startup companies, and fostering a safer and more prosperous Birmingham.”
Barefield received his undergraduate degree in finance at the University of Alabama and served four years in the United States Air Force, being honorably discharged as a captain. He began his professional career in investment banking with two Birmingham banks, where he obtained the Chartered Financial Analyst designation, all while receiving his MBA degree from UAB at night. Barefield worked for five years with Arthur Young & Company, where he received the CPA designation and provided audit and consulting services to health care, retail, manufacturing and real estate clients.
After this exposure to the multifamily real estate business, Barefield formed the predecessor to Abbey Residential in 1984 with his partner, Marnix E. Heersink, M.D., for whom the UAB Heersink School of Medicine is named. In the past 38 years, Barefield and Heersink have grown Abbey Residential to $2.5 billion in assets.
As a business owner, Barefield sees how crime negatively impacts individuals and the overall economy. Over the years, he had many discussions with Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber and Hoover Chief of Police Nick Derzis about the senseless nature of crimes in the community, and in wanting to help reduce crime and get criminals off the street, Barefield agreed to join the board of directors of Crime Stoppers of Metro Alabama. He has been chairman of Crime Stoppers for the past 10 years, and during his tenure, tips have assisted law enforcement in making 1,651 felony arrests and clearing 3,717 felony cases.
With his gift, Barefield is committed to providing resources to UAB that will hone specific areas in both criminal justice and entrepreneurship.
With regard to criminal justice, this $5 million investment will help the department expand in predicting an individual’s risk factors for crime, collaborating with law enforcement on strategies for crime prevention and implementing interventions in neighborhoods to combat cycles of violence, as well as preparing students for exciting careers in the field of crime science.
“There is probably no bigger opponent of business than the numerous crimes perpetrated on the public by those individuals who wish to take something — whether it be someone’s life or property — from those who have earned it,” Barefield said. “Business only prospers when honest people receive the rewards they have earned. Law enforcement is an essential part of growing a business, and people need to realize that law enforcement is the responsibility of everyone, not just the police. That is one of the reasons Crime Stoppers does so much to help reduce crime — by rewarding anonymous tipsters who only need to ‘make a call and make a difference.’”
For the College of Arts and Sciences, this gift will help students and faculty alike help the Department of Criminal Justice continue to grow and make a difference in the Birmingham community and beyond.
“The generous investment that Mr. Barefield has made in criminal justice is significant,” said Kecia Thomas, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The department is inherently interdisciplinary and reflects research contributed by the social sciences, physical sciences and computer science. Yet, the core value that drives the department is justice. This amazing gift will provide the department with the opportunity to expand its reach as it seeks to identify and dismantle the elements and systems that produce crime as well as perfect techniques and strategies to resolve crimes when they occur. I look forward to the production of graduates from the program that will provide community and justice-centered leadership for our society.”
In continuing to propel the ever-growing entrepreneurship program in the Collat School of Business, Barefield’s gift will help the program and, in turn, Birmingham continue to serve as a catalyst for dynamic growth, offer a first-rate education to Birmingham residents, incubate new ventures in growth industries, and create new jobs that will make waves in the city and beyond.
“This generous gift from one of our own MBA graduates will allow us to continue growing a popular entrepreneurship major into a world-class program,” said Eric Jack, Ph.D., Wells Fargo Endowed Chair in Business Administration and dean of the Collat School of Business. “The impact on our students and on the Birmingham entrepreneurial ecosystem will be tremendous for years to come. We are grateful for Mr. Barefield’s generosity, vision and loyalty to UAB and the Collat School of Business.”
For Barefield, impacting the next generation of students wishing to pursue careers in criminal justice and entrepreneurship, he encourages them to make the leap and take risks to get what they want out of a career.
“I want to encourage anyone who thinks they may want to be an entrepreneur to step out and take that risk,” Barefield shared. “Take time researching what you want to do and determine that it is feasible and try it. I’d like to see students have more access to detailing the characteristics of different professions that will assist them in deciding what area of business they are most passionate and driven to pursue. Learning and hearing from various entrepreneurs and working professionals spanning a vast range of specialties and backgrounds is critical to that success as well.”