Learning How to Fish at USC

April 03, 2015
• by
Alan C. Fox

There's an old proverb I read years ago: If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Education is how to fish, how to live your life, how to do business. Helping others to help themselves is the key. And that's what USC does for so many students, across so many different departments and in so many ways.

I am one of those students--a Trojan with four degrees. When I think about my own education, I don't think I could name four more important areas to know about than accounting and law in terms of thinking and analyzing, psychology in terms of getting along with others, and writing in terms of communicating. I've learned so much at USC that I would never have learned elsewhere.

That's been very important to my life. In a way, I've lived many lifetimes in my 75 years: I worked as a tax supervisor for a national CPA firm, established my own law firm and founded a commercial real estate company in 1968 that now owns and manages more than $1.5 billion of property in 11 states. I also founded a respected literary magazine and a nonprofit foundation that provides funding for youth education.

My first love is accounting, but I also believe that interpersonal skills are the key to success in business and in life. I didn't learn how to deal well with people until I was 29 years old and enrolled at USC's School of Education for the master's program in counseling. When I started in the MFA writing program 20 years later, that idea became the basis of a book. I spent another 20 years on that project, with a friend I met in the program who became my editor, and finally published People Tools: 54 Strategies for Building Relationships, Creating Joy, and Embracing Prosperity in 2014. For me, that book is all about helping people live a better life.

I believe that it is incumbent on people who have obtained something valuable from USC, or any other educational institution, to pass along the benefit of their experience, hopefully their wisdom, and certainly their financial resources, which are in part based upon a foundation of their USC education, and help others achieve success.

One way I've given back is by sharing my business insights with students. If you find one or two really outstanding ideas that you'll use and carry through for your lifetime, I think that's more important than money. I think that's what USC has to offer: ideas.

It's also contacts and experience. I landed an internship with what was then Peat, Marwick & Mitchell (now KPMG) as an accounting undergraduate and became good friends with the head tax partner, with whom I still have a relationship. I have relationships from every program at USC that have lasted to this day.

In real estate, we talk about leverage, meaning you put one dollar down on a million-dollar property and for that very small investment, you have a large property.

When you invest in young people, you are helping them for a lifetime. I find that exciting. And very worthwhile. I hope you agree.

Fight On!

Alan C. Fox BS '61, LLB '64, MS '71, MFA '92
ACF Property Management