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In memoriam: USC trustee Kenneth Leventhal

Kenneth Leventhal dedicated four decades to USC and was an ardent supporter of accounting education.

Kenneth Leventhal, a pioneer in the field of real estate accounting, chairman emeritus of the Ernst & Young Kenneth Leventhal Real Estate Group, a USC trustee and namesake of the USC Elaine and Kenneth Leventhal School of Accounting, died in Los Angeles on May 8 at the age of 90.

A Los Angeles native, Leventhal was a life member of the USC Board of Trustees who dedicated four decades to the enrichment of the university and its faculty and students. He had served on the board since 1977, participating on its executive, finance, development, audit and personnel committees.

“Ken Leventhal was a gifted businessman, a pioneer in the field of accounting, an internationally recognized leader in the real estate industry, and a committed and passionate Trojan,” said USC president C. L. Max Nikias. “With inspirational energy, dedication and hard work, he provided the leadership for two transformative fundraising campaigns of the university. His legacy has enriched the lives of all of us at USC. I will miss him greatly.”

Leventhal earned his B.S. in business administration and accounting from UCLA and his Certified Public Accountant designation from the State of California in 1948. As dedicated as he was to his profession, he also was an ardent supporter of accounting education. He taught part-time at his alma mater until the mid-1970s, when he directed his passion for education to USC.

As Leventhal’s involvement with USC deepened, he became a member of the donor financial planning committee for USC’s $309 million Toward Century II fundraising campaign (1976-1981). His financial support provided a significant impetus for the establishment of a dedicated school of accounting at USC in 1979.

In 1993, he took up the mantle of national chair for an even more ambitious development effort, the Building on Excellence campaign.

Raising a high bar for trustees and other campaign donors, Leventhal and his wife, Elaine Otter Leventhal MLA ’89, bequeathed $15 million to USC’s accounting school in 1995. Their gift was, at the time, the largest ever made to an accounting program, and the school was renamed in their honor the following year. The couple augmented that original gift with an additional $10 million pledge in 2002.

The campaign concluded that same year, having raised a record $2.85 billion. At the time, it was the most successful fundraising campaign in the history of American higher education — and Leventhal was the campaign’s “biggest hero.”

The seeds of Leventhal’s distinguished career were sown during childhood, when, as a 10-year-old, he took on a paper route for the Herald-Express. His route manager, who was enrolled in a correspondence course in accounting, told the young Leventhal that all an accountant needed to go into business was a pencil. Convinced that he could always earn a nickel to buy a pencil, Leventhal set out to become an accountant.

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he attended UCLA on the G.I. Bill. There, he met and married a classmate, Elaine, and in 1949 the couple launched an accounting business in their rented apartment, armed with little more than pencils and a 10-key electric adding machine.

By 1995, when it merged with Ernst & Young, Kenneth Leventhal & Co. — specializing in complex real estate situations — ranked as the ninth-largest certified public accounting firm in the country and had 13 offices nationwide. The firm’s international affiliate, Clark Kenneth Leventhal & Co., had become the 12th-largest accounting firm in the world.

“Ken Leventhal was one of the giants on whose shoulders we now stand,” said William W. Holder, dean of the USC Leventhal School of Accounting. “Through his intellect, energy, integrity and industriousness, he created one of largest and most successful professional service firms in the nation. Through his wisdom, generosity and philanthropy, he created enduring legacies, including the Elaine and Kenneth Leventhal School of Accounting at USC.”

Leventhal served on the Senior Council, which is the governing body of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and as director of the California Society of Certified Public Accountants. He led numerous symposia in both the accounting and real estate fields, and contributed articles to a variety of professional publications, including Professional Builder magazine.

At USC, he also served on the boards of councilors of the USC Marshall School of Business and USC Leventhal, and was a member of USC Associates, USC Accounting Circle and USC Accounting Associates.

In addition to their namesake school, the Leventhals extended their support to the John R. Hubbard Chair in History at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, as well as to the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, the USC Davis School of Gerontology, the USC Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, the USC Libraries and the Doheny Eye Institute.

In recognition of their many contributions to the university, Elaine and Kenneth Leventhal were awarded honorary doctor of humane letters degrees from USC in 2000. Kenneth Leventhal received USC’s highest honor, the Presidential Medallion, in 2004.

Leventhal is survived by his wife of 63 years, Elaine; his brother, Henley; his son, Robert; his son, Ross and daughter-in-law Mary Jo; and his granddaughter, Emma.

Services will be held on Thursday, May 10 at 2 p.m. at Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills (5950 Forest Lawn Dr., Los Angeles 90068). In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Elaine and Kenneth Leventhal School of Accounting at USC. For more information, please contact Leeza Hoyt (llhoyt@hoytorg.com) or Kent Barrett (kbarrett@hoytorg.com).

USC will host a celebration of Leventhal’s life in early fall.

In memoriam: USC trustee Kenneth Leventhal

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