ALM BEACH, Fla. – J. Ira Harris, the retired chairman of J.I. Harris and Associates, and a longtime friend of the University of Michigan and the Michigan Football program passed away at his home in Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday (Feb. 21). Harris, 83, was an internationally recognized expert in the field of mergers and acquisitions.
A graduate of the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1959, Harris’ generosity and love for the institution was evident. He was given the 2010 Outstanding Alumni Award from the Ross School of Business, and in April 2012 the University conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree upon Harris.
In 2014, J. Ira and Nicki Harris, through the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Foundation, made a leadership gift of $10 million to the University of Michigan Athletic Department during the Victors for Michigan Campaign. The contribution has provided necessary endowment resources for the football program to help students excel in the classroom and in competition and support facilities. In recognition of their gift, the head football coaching position was formally known as the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach. Harris was also an active advocate for equity among women’s sport programs, culminating in a significant gift in late 2021 recognizing the vital role of women’s athletics at the University of Michigan.
Harris was the chair of the financial consulting firm, J.I. Harris & Associates. He was a member of the University of Michigan Investment Advisory Committee, the President’s Advisory Group, the leadership committee of the Michigan Difference Campaign Steering Committee, the Campaign Leadership Board of the Victors for Michigan, and the Leadership Advisory Board for the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute.
The Harris family has also been outstanding supporters of other areas of the University of Michigan. They have created scholarships, endowed professorships, and provided support for the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
In the Chicago area, Ira was a Life Trustee of Northwestern University, Northwestern Memorial Hospital Corporation and the Museum of Science and Industry. He was a Life Director of the Chicago Public Library Foundation, the National Center for Learning Disabilities in New York City, and the Big Shoulder Fund for the Chicago Parochial School System. In the past, Harris was director of the Chicago Community Foundation, and served on the boards of Manpower Corporation, Caremark Corporation and Watsco Corporation.
Harris was the Director of the Palm Beach Civic Association and the Board of Directors of the Kravis Center of Palm Beach. He also served on the Investment Committees of the Polk Brothers Charitable Foundation. Harris was the Founding Chairman of Project HOPE (Harris Obesity Prevention Effort) at the Langone Medical School of New York University.
After graduating from Michigan, Harris embarked on a career in finance, where he helped to manage leading firms including William Blair & Company LLC, Salomon Brothers and Lazard Freres and Company, as well as his own investment banking business. As an emerging expert in mergers and acquisitions, Harris became internationally recognized for his ability to negotiate multimillion-dollar financial deals.
Harris is survived by his wife, Nicki, and their three children: Bradley, Jacqueline and Jonathan. The Harris’ also have six grandchildren.
Following are statements from Warde Manuel and Jim Harbaugh within the athletic department:
We are saddened at the loss of a tremendous friend in Ira Harris, and our hearts go out to his wife, Nicki and family. Ira and Nicki have positively impacted Michigan Athletics and their local communities so much that it’s hard to put into words. They proudly endowed our head football coach position in 2014, forever linking their family’s longstanding relationship with our program. Ira’s love of Michigan extended well beyond athletics to his varied and significant contributions across our campus. He will be missed tremendously.
Warde Manuel, Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics
The loss of Ira Harris hits home in many ways. A great man from a Michigan family, Ira was a mentor to me when I arrived in Chicago to play for the Bears.
As his son Jon said to me today, “remember the good times.” I can attest that there were many great times, whether it was attending sporting events in Chicago, talking about Michigan Football or helping me with my investments, Ira was always there for me and I felt like the fourth child of the Harris family.
He was an influential friend, go-to advisor and known agent for myself and the Harbaugh family. I am a better person for knowing and being associated with Ira. It is my honor to represent the family with the naming of my position, the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach. Today, I mourn the loss of a dear friend but also cherish great memories from our nearly four decades together.
We have lost a very special man. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Nicki, and their children, Brad, Jackie and Jon, and their grandchildren.
Rest in peace, Ira, and Go Blue!
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan’s J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach