University of Southern California

Kenneth Leventhal: The One Thing You Need To Be An Accountant
December 3, 2010 • by Kenneth Leventhal

Dear Friends of Marshall:

I was eight years old and selling newspapers on the corner of 3rd and Catalina in Los Angeles. One day my manager came and said, "I'm going to take a correspondence course in accounting and become an accountant." What's an accountant? I asked him. He pulls out a pencil and says, "This is all you need to go into business." I figured for a nickel I could go into business and be my own boss. From that day on, I said I was going to be an accountant.

My father died when I was 12 and I had to support myself. I never stayed in high school or college past 12 o'clock. I would leave at noon to go to work. I was working and going to college, but was interrupted by World War II, so although I graduated from high school in 1939, I didn't graduate from college until 1949. After the war, in 1946 when I was discharged from the army, I worked part-time for an accounting firm and finished my college work and got my degree. I believe education is fundamental; it is the way people can climb up by their own bootstraps. And I believe capitalism is dependent on reliable financial information. Throughout the world, the better the numbers, the faster the capitalist system grows. That's why we have to have accountants and why my wife, Elaine, and I support the Leventhal School of Accounting.

Because of education I rose from nothing to the point where I could be a philanthropist. I think USC graduates should get a lot of personal satisfaction about giving back to the school that gave them their education. And it doesn't have to be a large gift. The good thing about small gifts is that if you do it every year on a repetitive basis, it gets to be a habit. I look at philanthropy like rent – something that has to be paid.

Why give right now? Because there's some kid that needs a scholarship—that needs a chance to get a leg up. The state schools are in trouble. At USC, we'll get you through. We'll give you grants, get you loans, we'll get you through somehow. This country is such a blessing and the fundamentals of this country are business and capitalism. That depends on good numbers. That means you have to have good accountants. Give a little now to keep them coming.

Fight On!
Kenneth Leventhal