“We are thrilled to add John Cato to the distinguished list of recipients for this award," said Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber. “John has consistently demonstrated outstanding service, dedication and commitment to UNC Charlotte and to our city. Through his words and actions, he has impacted the lives of thousands of students and made Charlotte a better place to live."
Cato has distinguished himself as a devoted business leader, philanthropist and ardent supporter of UNC Charlotte. He was named chairman of the leading specialty apparel retailer of value-priced fashion apparel and accessories in 2004 after leading the company as chief executive since 1999. He has been at the forefront in developing the strategies the company has used to deliver sales and earnings growth since 1997.
The Cato family has always believed in the value of a good education and has instilled this belief in all its generations. Cato continues to honor that legacy through his ongoing support of educators and education in general. In 2016, Cato and the Cato Corporation made a $5 million gift to establish the Cato Scholarship for Education and the Cato Award for Faculty Excellence at UNC Charlotte to help prepare a new generation of teachers. Charlotte’s College of Education was named the Cato College of Education for the Cato Corporation in honor of its commitment to North Carolina’s children and educators.
“John has a true passion for education, which is rooted in his belief that teachers have the unique ability to inspire their students,” said Malcolm Butler, dean of the Cato College of Education. “He understands that the path to success starts with a great education and you can’t have a great education without great teachers.”
Cato completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte and has served the University in various capacities. He is a former member of the UNC Charlotte Foundation Board, the UNC Charlotte Board of Visitors and the Belk College of Business Advisory Board. Cato was inducted into the UNC Charlotte Alumni Hall of Fame in 2012 and was the recipient of the UNC Charlotte Alumni Association’s Bonnie Cone Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020.
The Distinguished Service Award, established in 1987 by the Board of Trustees of UNC Charlotte and the Board of Directors of the University Foundation, honors those who have provided outstanding leadership and exemplary service to the Charlotte community and to the advancement of UNC Charlotte. Each recipient of the award receives a statue of a gold miner, cast from a sculpture by Lorenzo Ghiglieri.