Remembering Mr. Quon

Entrepreneur and Ground-Breaker who Graduated 90 Years Ago Still Giving Back

February 21, 2018

Students, faculty and staff of the Marshall School of Business walk by his memorial every day.

Tucked into an alcove in the lobby of Bridge Hall, and protected by glass, a bronze bust memorializes a man, wearing spectacles and a kindly smile, and thanks him for his gifts to the school.

But who was this 1928 graduate? A plaque describes a scholar, businessman and humanitarian “whose personal involvement and financial generosity shall never be forgotten by those who pass through the corridors of the School of Business Administration.”

A more recent Marshall graduate, Selena Ng ’16 offers insight:

“That is my great, great uncle Albert T. Quon,” says Ng. “I passed by it every day going to my accounting classes, but I don’t think I would have realized all that he’s done for the school had I not actually been related to him.”

A Lifelong Trojan

Today’s students might care to know that the man for whom that bronze bust was created in 1987 was in fact the embodiment of the very values USC Marshall celebrates the most: Hard work, entrepreneurship and loyalty to the Trojan Family. 

After humble beginnings, Mr. Quon built a successful international business, enjoyed a large extended family, and lived to see more than 100 years. “I actually got to meet him when I was small,” says Ng. “He inspired the whole family, and many others as well.”

Making Opportunities

Quon ’28 was born in Canton, China, and moved with his father to the United States to take advantage of the many opportunities available in growing southern California. He completed high school in San Diego, and decided to attend college instead of going right into the family business. He chose USC.

But he had to pay his own way. In 1925 he took a job as an agent for the New York Life Insurance Co. selling policies to the Chinese community in Los Angeles. At the time, USC’s School of Commerce held classes in a downtown building.

“Classes were held in rooms on the top floor of a building at Los Angeles Street and Seventh Avenue,’ he told the Marshall Magazine in 1996. “However, in 1926 they discontinued classes at that location, and I had to take the streetcar to campus.”

Quon excelled academically and was popular socially.  He was a member of Beta Gamma Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi, and served as president of the Cosmopolitan Club and the Sigma Pi Alpha business fraternity.

“I realized that USC gave me the tools to set up my business, and it gave me the inspiration that drove me forward." -- Albert T. Quon

But at some point he hit a rough patch, and inquired about scholarships to help defray costs. He was told that while his grades were worthy, there were no scholarships available to foreign students.

He never forgot that slight. He vowed that if he ever became successful, he would fund scholarships for international students.

The Entrepreneur

He finished his degree in just three years, despite the fact that English was his second language and met Lily, a Chinese woman studying music at USC, who would become his wife. The future seemed bright.

Upon graduation, Quon returned to China, establishing an import/export company there in 1929. The company grew, despite the challenges of the Depression years. However, sensing war clouds on the horizon, Quon and his wife returned to Los Angeles just ahead of the Japanese Invasion of China in 1937.

America’s entry into World War II made it nearly impossible to continue importing goods from China, so like any good entrepreneur, Quon pivoted—importing instead from Mexico, Haiti and the Caribbean. “It was a case of making adjustments, or perish,” he said at the time.  He later resumed importing art, antiques and fine furniture from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand and, after President Nixon’s historic visit in 1972, from China once again.

His company, Quon-Quon, prospered (“Americans have difficulty remembering Chinese names,” he is reported to have said. “If you repeat it, it will be easier for them to remember.”). He became a respected member of the Los Angeles business community, becoming the first Asian admitted to the Los Angeles Rotary Club, and the first Asian to serve on the Board of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

Giving Back

In 1953 he approached USC to endow a significant scholarship fund for international students from the Pacific Rim—The Albert T. and Lily Quon Endowed Scholarship in Business Administration.

“I realized that USC gave me the tools to set up my business, and it gave me the inspiration that drove me forward,” he said.

When he retired in 1976 he continued to be involved with his alma mater. He and his wife often hosted international students at their home, says his niece Ng.

In 1975 Quon received the USC Alumni Award for Business Excellence, and in 1985 the Albert T. Quon University and Community Service Awards were established, which are presented each year at the MBA commencement ceremony.

“Albert Quon was the consummate Trojan,” says Marshall dean James G. Ellis. “His generosity of spirit has created a lasting legacy, and he remains an example of what is possible to achieve through hard work and ingenuity.”

Mr. Quon lived a long life and enjoyed a large, extended family. He died in 2001 just shy of his 101th birthday.  His first wife preceded him in death in 1976 as did his second wife, also named Lily, in 1999.

But his spirit and generosity indeed live on through his gifts to Marshall. There have been 343 students hailing from Pacific Rim countries who have benefited from the Quon family scholarship since 1990 (an average of 12 per year), including eight undergraduates and five full-time MBA students in the 2017-18 school year. There have been nine recipients of the Albert Quon University and Community Service Award.

Now that you know the story of the man whose bronze bust sits in the locked alcove in the lobby of Bridge Hall, take a moment to stop and thank him for all he’s done for the Trojan Family.