Real estate investor Thomas J. Barrack Jr. is a bit of an enigma. He once loaned photographer Annie Leibowitz $24 million and, after Michael Jackson's death, he penned an open letter to the denizens of Santa Barbara urging calm as the outside world descended upon Neverland Ranch. Of course, this is the same Neverland Ranch that Barrack himself purchased after the King of Pop defaulted on a loan. Barrack’s Colony Capital has made a killing from buying up these kinds of troubled assets and his company has grown to manage more than $34 billion in real estate from California to the Middle East to Germany.
Earlier this month, Barrack gave $15 million to USC’s Marshall School of Business, from which he graduated in 1969. The money itself will be used to transform the 1928-built Bridge Hall into Barrack Hall, a cutting-edge renovated space that will house fifteen undergrad and graduate programs in international business. Barrack is second-generation Lebanese and his career is marked by an international perspective. The new programs will aim to bridge the gap in global communcation and will serve as a locus for international business for all of USC. This a great example of structuring a gift to really connect with a donor's interests.
A monied alumnus writes a massive check to his alma mater. This in itself is not surprising. More surprising is that the gift itself comes through the Thomas J. Barrack Family Foundation, an entity that in recent years has had negligible assets and made zero grants. Where is this coming from, and why now?
For starters, the University of Southern California is in the midst of a multi-year $6 billion campaign and is leaning on its richest and most prominent alumni to fork over the big bucks. Just three years into the campaign, the university is already halfway to its goal.
Barrack has been on the USC Board of Trustees since 2012, so it’s no surprise that his hefty donation comes within the context of this campaign. Timing is everything.
This, however, isn’t even Barrack’s first rodeo. Not by a long shot. He sat on a similar board in the midst of a similar philanthropic campaign at his old Jesuit high school of Loyola. And that campaign was arguably even more successful.
Since 2004, Barrack been the general chair for the Campaign for Loyola, where, under his leadership, the school has raised more than $107 million in new philanthropic support, the largest campaign for a Jesuit high school in the entire United States. The Campaign has lead to campus expansion, new building construction and $17 million in new financial aid endowment alone.
It only seems natural that Barrack would extend his philanthropic efforts to higher ed. He has a track-record of bringing in money while serving in leadership positions. As a former alum, he’s now beginning to put some of his own big money into the pot as well.
In Barrack’s case, it might not even be sufficient to just call him an alum. He even out-Trojans Tommy Trojan. Not only does he have a B.A. and a business degree from USC, but he also had a stint at USC Gould School of Law where he was the head of the Southern California Law Review. Two of Barrack’s five kids currently attend USC. Clearly, Barrack is passionate about the schools that he attended and he’s continuing that tradition by making sure his schools stay well-funded.