The wealthy entrepreneur whose record-setting donation to USC’s business school funded a pioneering foray into global business education has died. Gordon Marshall in 1997 pledged $35 million for the school, which became the Gordon S. Marshall School of Business. He died June 2 at 95.
“Gordon Marshall was a soft-spoken man with a powerful entrepreneurial spirit and a profound dedication to the University of Southern California,” says USC president Max Nikias. “His commitment to USC spanned seven decades, and his extraordinary philanthropy gave a dramatic boost to business education at this university. He was a true treasure, and we will always be grateful for the gifts he gave of his time and his leadership to USC.”
A WWII B-24 bomber pilot, Marshall went on to found Marshall Industries, which grew into one of the five largest industrial electronics distributors in the U.S. He told the L.A. Times in 1997 that he had left the U.S. Army Air Corps with only a few thousand dollars in savings. “I started with nothing and was lucky and worked hard and was at the right place at the right time,” Marshall said.
His $35 million gift had been the largest ever to a U.S. business school. That donation allowed the school to make an early entry into global business education, kick-starting a new program to send the entire first-year MBA class to study in Pacific Rim countries.
“As far as we know, no business school has tried to do this,” then-dean Randolph Westerfield told the L.A. Times. “Every dean and business teacher knows the importance of the global marketplace and international business.”
‘LOVED EVERY MINUTE’ AT USC BUSINESS SCHOOL
The initiative has developed into the school’s eight-week Pacific Rim Education Program, mandatory experiential learning for first-years.
After the war, Marshall in 1946 obtained a degree in accounting from USC’s College of Commerce, the school that would later be renamed the USC Graduate School of Business, and then ultimately bear his own name.
“Gordon had an exceptional experience here at USC,” James Ellis, Marshall School dean and close friend of Marshall’s, told the USC student newspaper at the time of the philanthropist’s 93rd birthday. “He loved it, he loved every minute of it, and it was just a great part of his life.”
As a teenager in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, Marshall operated a ham radio, a hobby that sparked a life-long interest in electronics. He founded Marshall Industries in El Monte, not far from Pasadena, in 1953. The firm was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1959, and grew to operate in 38 North American cities. At the time it was sold in 1999 to rival Avnet for $762 million, net sales were topping $1.7 billion per year and the company was racking up gross profits of more than $265 million.
SERVED ON COMMISSION UNDER FORMER GOVERNOR RONALD REAGAN
From 1973 to 1975, Marshall served on former governor Ronald Reagan’s Post-Secondary Education Commission, and he was a member of the state’s Committee for the Master Plan for Higher Education.
Marshall was elected to the USC Board of Trustees in 1968, serving as secretary from 1970 to 1984, and holding positions as academic affairs committee chair and member of the executive and development committees.
“Gordon Marshall was an inspiration, both to the USC community and to me personally,” Ellis says. “His words of wisdom served as a source of guidance and support, and his tireless dedication helped forge a legacy of excellence that continues to set the standard for U.S. business schools.”