Leadership Plus Focused Giving Yields the International Center for Entrepreneurial Management


For Richard Heckmann, giving back to entrepreneurship – specifically giving $6 million towards construction of the Richard J. Heckmann International Center for Entrepreneurial Management at the University of California Riverside (UCR) in Palm Desert – made sense for two reasons.

First, because doing so would unleash the power of Palm Desert's combined presence of UCR and one of the country's richest concentrations of CEOs eager to teach and mentor tomorrow's most promising entrepreneurs. Second, because he had the ability to support the center as a result of 30 years of successful entrepreneurship.

In 1971, Heckmann founded Tower Scientific Corp., which grew into the largest manufacturer of custom prosthetic devices in the U.S. before Hexcel Corp. acquired it in 1977. He was a founding shareholder of Callaway Golf and former director and owner of Smith Goggles of Sun Valley, Idaho. He served in the Carter Administration as associate administrator for finance and investment in the Small Business Administration in the late 1970s.

He also served as White House liaison from the SBA, as a director of the Advisory Board of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as chairman of the Listed Company Advisory Committee of the New York Stock Exchange, and as a member of the NYSE's Special Governance Committee.

In 1990, realizing how few suppliers provided clean water to industries that depended on it, Heckmann made an initial investment of $1.6 million in USFilter. Under his leadership, USFilter became the Coachella Valley's first Fortune 500 Company, with revenues increasing from $17 million to $5.5 billion in 1999, at which time the company was purchased by Vivendi S.A. of Paris for $8.2 billion.

Recognizing Opportunity

Heckmann's involvement in the world of entrepreneurship education began in the mid-1990s, thanks to an USFilter board member who was also a professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Business. The board member asked Heckmann for his help in founding and supporting the school's Harold Price Center for Entrepreneurship.

With that background, Heckmann saw a unique opportunity to help create an institution in Palm Desert that would prepare top up-and-coming entrepreneurs for the business challenges of the new century and encourage many of them to stay in the area, thus helping to diversify an economy currently dependent on the hospitality industry and, to a lesser extent, agriculture.

His $6 million gift in March 2001 launched efforts to develop a UCR satellite campus in Palm Desert, including the donation of 20 acres of land for the campus from the city of Palm Desert and $10 million from the state to finance construction. The center, which opened this fall with its first class of students, occupies a 21,209-square-foot building that includes teaching, meeting, teleconferencing and distance learning spaces, as well as computer labs, faculty and administrative offices.

Access to CEOs

MBA students at the Heckmann Center team up with business executives and entrepreneurs in a program that includes traditional areas of management, such as accounting, finance, information systems and marketing, along with advanced topics in corporate and entrepreneurial management. All courses include time with mentors and lecturers.

"The Heckmann Center is an academic partnership of world-class University of California faculty and executives and entrepreneurs who have built highly successful businesses, both small and large," says Erik Rolland, director of the center.

Providing students with access to the wealth of entrepreneurial knowledge and experience of CEOs who live or vacation in the area was part of Heckmann's vision.

"I was involved with the Anderson School at UCLA, I have spoken at Stanford and am on the Business Council of the University of Notre Dame Business School," says Heckmann, who's been instrumental in recruiting seasoned business leaders to teach at the center. "I know how much students love to hear from real CEOs."

"The Heckmann Center is building a team of professors-in-residence who are world-class in their experience and insights," says Ken Walters, executive director of UCR Palm Desert. "This team of CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs will contribute to students" education in unique and powerful ways."

An Ongoing Priority

Heckmann maintains an office on campus, chairs the center's board, and is taking an active role in teaching and mentoring students through the program. He has also pledged to help UCR raise further funds for an operating endowment and endowed faculty chairs. But that's hardly all he's doing.

Since 2002, he's been CEO of K2, Inc., a Carlsbad, Calif.-based sporting goods holding company whose products include more than 35 different brands used in everything from baseball and paintball to alpine skiing and fishing. With FY 2004 revenues at $1.2 billion, Heckmann envisions becoming a $5 billion company. He is also the owner of the NBA Phoenix Suns basketball team.

Raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Heckmann says he was interested in entrepreneurial activities from the time he shoveled snow and delivered newspapers.

So, ultimately, giving back to entrepreneurship makes sense to him not only because he has the capacity to do so and because UCR Palm Desert is the right place at the right time to do it. "It makes sense," he says, "because it will encourage more kids to go out and do the kinds of things I did and, in doing so, help transform not only the economy of the Coachella Valley but also the growth of entrepreneurship in the United States."

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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