B-School Love: The Donor Behind a Big Campus Accounting Gift

Those big gifts to the University of Southern California just keep coming. Most recently, the school received a $15 million gift from Harlan A. Helvey to renovate the building that houses the Leventhal School of Accounting, a structure built in 1926. The Leventhal School is part of the Marshall School of Business, and Helvey's gift comes amid a $6 billion fundraising campaign at USC.

Related: Inside a Fundraising Juggernaut: How USC Pulls in the Big Bucks

In this past, I've written about big business school gifts that involve creating chairs and supporting various programs. Entrepreneurship is also a growing niche in campus giving, and it's a trend we've been tracking closely. Overall, we've noted that B-schools can be super-powerful magnets for campus cash, and it doesn't take an MBA to figure out why: Because many of a university's richest alumni have made their money through business. Deans from business schools have a lot of trees to shake. 


While chairs and special initiatives often draw B-school donors, we've noticed that quite a few of them are attracted to capital projects. Many of these donors love the idea of building stuff (often with their name on it)—a dramatic example being Ronald Perelman's $100 million gift in 2013 for a new facility for the Columbia Business School. More recently, Detroit entrepreneurs Mike and Marian Ilitch gave $40 million plus use of land to Wayne State University for its new business school. 

But we also see smaller infrastructure gifts to B-schools. Funds of this kind are important in the case of USC's business school, the oldest in all of Southern California. The new and restored accounting building will be named—you guessed it—Harlan A. Helvey Hall.

Harlan Helvey has been a resident of sunny and chill Manhattan Beach, California all of his life. Helvey graduated from El Segundo High School and attended El Camino College in Torrance, where he discovered a knack for accounting. Helvey graduated from USC with a B.S. in accounting in 1964.

It's easy to see how USC (as well as the UC system, to be fair), loomed large for a Southern California native like Helvey. He not only earned his undergrad at USC; he also received an MBA from the school in 1971. As a student, Helvey was active in Trojan campus life, too, as a member of the Alpha Gamma Sigma and Beta Gamma Sigma honor societies. Armed with a Trojan education, Helvey became a certified public accountant and real estate investor.

As a lifelong resident of Manhattan Beach and USC alum, he's a prime donor to step up with a big gift, especially in the midst of a big fundraising campaign. As Helvey puts it, "I have been fortunate to be able to give back to the USC accounting school something of value, hopefully comparable to the value the accounting school gave to me."