When Aaron McCullough ’07 graduated with his BSBA in finance from the USC Marshall School of Business, he left his Southern California home for the Bay Area, where he launched his career with Google in product strategy and analytics. He stayed in Northern California for 14 years, taking leadership roles in product management at three other companies before becoming global head of product management for Uber Transit in March 2020.
But when he moved his family of four back to Southern California in January 2021, McCullough, now back in Trojan territory, began thinking about how much he valued his Marshall education. At 35, with an already phenomenal career trajectory, he wanted to become more involved in the school that had prepared him so well for success.
Trojan blood runs deep in the McCullough clan. His two siblings are also alumni: Ian Gabriel McCullough ’16 graduated from Viterbi, and Emily Grace McCullough ’17 graduated from Dornsife. Giving back runs in the family as well; his parents, Gary and Kim McCullough, established the McCullough Family Endowed Scholarship Fund in 2015.
“I’ve been fortunate,” McCullough said. “When I think back to the experiences that have set me up for success, I know my time at Marshall was foundational in that. I learned the right framework for strategic thinking, and the quantitative toolset to depend on.
“More roles today demand a deep understanding of data,” he said. “You have to be able to work with data, tell stories with data, and interpret data to make decisions. That’s something invaluable I can definitely point to from my Marshall education. Without that experience and education, combined with the exposure to other leadership opportunities USC afforded, I would likely be in a very different situation than I am today. And I want to pay it forward.”
Giving Back so It Counts
After considering the options for giving and how he could have a significant impact, McCullough made a sustaining, multi-year gift to the USC Marshall Equity Innovation Fund (MEIF).
Launched in 2020, the student-run MEIF encourages and supports entrepreneurship and innovation among students of color at USC Marshall. Managed by a partnership of students and faculty, the MEIF serves as a learning lab for future interactions with investors and venture capitalists and gives participants a unique set of skills and connections to help them implement and fund their ventures. Support for the MEIF sustains small grant fund awards based on the stage of business development, mentorship, and networking events.
“Giving back to help expand opportunities for other students, especially students of color, is something that I think is really important,” McCullough said. “When I look at the technology industry, representation matters; I think this is one small way to help with that.”
For McCullough, this was also an opportunity to become actively engaged with his alma mater and with faculty advisors Adlai Wertman, the David C. Bohnett Professor of Social Entrepreneurship and founding director of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab, and Zivia Sweeney, associate professor of clinical accounting.
“Speaking firsthand with Professor Wertman, learning what motivates him, and how he envisions the program coming to life got me really excited,” McCullough said. He looks forward to helping to shape the program and, especially, the opportunity to mentor student entrepreneurs.
“That’s the piece I felt I was really looking for: how do I have a hands-on approach and hands-on impact versus just writing a check,” he said.
“By supporting the Marshall Equity Innovation Fund, Aaron McCullough’s gift will help students with initial funds to help them prepare their ventures and, equally important, mentors to guide their experience,” said Wertman. “At the same time, the students on the review committee will get experience in analyzing businesses and making investment decisions. So it’s a win-win all around.” The first grants will be awarded in the fall, said Wertman.
The Value of Mentoring
“One of the things I’ve enjoyed throughout my career is helping people grow,” McCullough said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some great mentors over the years who really cared about helping me succeed—and I didn't always have that in my career. I’ve also been fortunate to have some really good role models in my life within my family, and I recognize that not everybody has that.
“To be a mentor for a student, someone there along the way to help them understand the options that are out there, to help them grow as individuals, and give them access to potential opportunities, is something I look forward to helping pay it forward for Marshall,” he continued.
“If I can play even a small role in helping students succeed, that’s one of the motivating factors for me,” he said.