Tech Titan

Silicon Valley leader Tom Siebel believes in the power of design and collaboration—and in the U of I

Siebel Center for Design Tom Siebel (Image courtesy of
Silicon Valley leader Tom Siebel believes in the power of design and collaboration—and in the U of I

SCD springs from a $25 million gift given by eponymous benefactor, Tom Siebel, ’75 LAS, MBA ’83, MS ’85 ENG, whose passion for learning across the disciplines is revealed in his Illinois degrees in history, business and computer science. “Design initiative efforts in the academy are changing everything about the way people interact and create and ideate,” observes the storied Silicon Valley CEO. He envisions the Center as “the apogee of multidisciplinary collaboration as related to art, engineering, computer science, product design and biomedical developments.”

While an MBA student at Illinois in the early 1980s, Siebel was fascinated by an essay in which the late Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell forecast a new economic world order, a post-industrial society ruled by information and science. Bell “predicted that computers and information technology were going to change everything about the way that we communicate, the way that we educate, the way that we entertain ourselves and the way that we work,” Siebel explains. “This was before the mini-computer, before the personal computer, before the Internet, certainly way before the iPhone.” Bell’s predictions inspired Siebel to head “north of Green Street,” he says, and follow up his business degree with an M.S. in computer science “so that I could have the tools to play in what was going to be a very big and very real game.”

Siebel went on to become a titan of Silicon Valley, staking and making his fortune in enterprise application software with companies such as Oracle and his own Siebel Systems. In 2009, he founded C3 AI, a multi-billion-dollar company that develops artificial intelligence applications for energy, aerospace, manufacturing, finance and telecommunications.

A visionary thinker and committed philanthropist, Siebel values education and his Alma Mater, donating $32 million to build the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science, a beautiful, award-winning teaching and research facility that opened on campus in 2003. He has endowed professorships at the University and established the Siebel Scholars Program, which supports graduate students at Illinois and other institutions. His company even foresightedly pays tuition for employees to earn master’s degrees in computer science online from UIUC.

As to SCD, the second facility at Illinois to bear his name, Siebel observes: “The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is, in my opinion, one of the great centers of research and education on the planet Earth. And it is my hope that this Center is going to be a transformative place that will make the University even greater.”

Explore the Siebel Center for Design in Illinois Alumni Magazine.

Siebel Center for Design

In fall 2021, guest of honor Tom Siebel, several members of his family, the building’s architect, University of Illinois leadership, and SCD leadership cut the ribbon together on the east terrace, symbolically ushering in a new era for SCD. (Image by Fred Zwicky)