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Self-storage pioneer and USC Trustee B. Wayne Hughes, 87

Hughes and his family are the largest benefactors in the history of the university — with many of his gifts arriving anonymously.

Wayne Hughes USC trustee
B. Wayne Hughes was the visionary founder of Public Storage and a devoted USC benefactor. (Photo/Courtesy of the Hughes family)

The USC community mourns the passing of B. Wayne Hughes, a life trustee of the university and the visionary founder of Public Storage. Hughes earned his bachelor’s degree from the USC Marshall School of Business in 1957, and he and his family are the largest benefactors in the history of the university — with most of his gifts arriving quietly and anonymously. He passed away on Aug. 18 at his home in Lexington, Kentucky, at the age of 87.

“Wayne will always be remembered for his entrepreneurial drive, generous philanthropy and his love for his alma mater,” USC President Carol L. Folt said. “He was the son of an Oklahoma sharecropper who went on to create the largest self-storage company in the world. And his incredible commitment to USC touched every corner of our campuses and spanned more than six decades. In everything he did, he brought the Fight On spirit.”

Hughes first joined the USC Board of Trustees in 1999 and was a member of the USC Scholarship Club. He loved Trojan athletics and was a constant presence at games and events for many sports. Over the years, he became a trusted sounding board to so many in the USC community.

“Wayne Hughes was an incredibly humble, generous, and loving man,” said Rick Caruso, chair of the USC Board of Trustees. “He was a dear friend, a dedicated father, a remarkable leader and a passionate philanthropist. We were honored to have him on our board and as part of our Trojan community. He will be deeply missed by his family, whom he loved so much, and by all who knew him.”

B. Wayne Hughes: A visionary entrepreneur

Born in 1933 during the Great Depression, Hughes moved with his family to Southern California as a child. He described the experience in an interview with GQ in 2012, stating: “Have you read The Grapes of Wrath? That was my family. My dad was a sharecropper in western Oklahoma. When the dust storms came and everything got wiped out, they came to California.”

Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, he delivered papers for the Los Angeles Herald-Express to support the family while his father worked a factory job manufacturing refrigeration components. Hughes impressed the newspaper’s leaders so much, they rewarded him with gifts and ultimately a scholarship to attend USC.

After graduating from USC and completing a stint in the U.S. Navy, Hughes entered the real estate industry and eventually rose to become executive vice president at an investment company in the early 1970s. During one deal, he met his future business partner, Kenneth Volk Jr., and the two became quick friends.

According to Public Storage lore, Hughes came across a small storage facility while on a trip through Texas and learned that all of its units had sold out. He pitched Volk the idea of starting their own storage warehouse and they scraped together $25,000 each in seed money, forming the new company.

They opened their first Public Storage location in El Cajon, Calif., painting the doors of the rental units their trademark bright orange to attract drivers on a nearby highway. The business took off, growing their $50,000 investment into a multi-billion dollar fortune and expanding Public Storage to more than 2,500 locations. The self-storage company grew into a publicly traded S&P 500 business that employs more than 5,000 people and offers more than 170 million square feet of rentable space in the United States and Europe.

Hughes served as president, chairman and CEO, ultimately stepping down as chairman in 2011. In addition, he was founder and served as chairman of American Homes 4 Rent, a leader in the single-family home rental industry.

Hughes also developed a strong interest in thoroughbred horse racing after being introduced to the sport by his father, who often attended Santa Anita Park, the well-known racetrack in Arcadia, Calif. An owner of thoroughbred racehorses since 1972, Hughes had numerous award-winning horses, most notably the colt Authentic, winner of the 2020 Kentucky Derby, and the filly Beholder. In 2004, he acquired the historic 700-acre Spendthrift Farm, a thoroughbred breeding farm and racing stable near Lexington, Kentucky.

USC trustee had a philanthropist’s heart

In addition to his involvement in the real estate industry, Hughes was one of our nation’s greatest philanthropists. Though a devoted donor to causes and institutions he was passionate about, he never wished to draw attention away from the object of his gift. Hughes believed strongly in donating anonymously, with the exception of two meaningful donations.

In a tribute to his late son, Parker, who passed away at eight years old from leukemia, he created and supported the Parker Hughes Cancer Center in Minnesota. At its peak, the center developed several drugs to treat childhood cancer, including an immunotoxin that attacks leukemia cells. Hughes described the center as “my passion in life.”

The Hughes family also funded the John McKay Center’s lobby atrium in Parker’s honor. An unassuming plaque there reads: “Our little man wanted to be a Trojan. And now he is.”

Alongside these pursuits, Hughes freely gave his time and energy to USC throughout his life, while remaining a steady — and extraordinarily generous — donor to a range of university programs. As a key benefactor and advisor, he steered the growth of numerous USC schools and gave a boost to innovative, life-changing research across the university. His support also contributed greatly to the competitiveness of USC’s athletic programs and transformed the lives of generations of Trojan student-athletes.

Hughes passed his love for USC on to his family. His two children followed in his footsteps as Trojan alumni, as did three of his four grandchildren. In 2010, his daughter, Tammy Hughes Gustavson, joined him on the USC Board of Trustees, where they served together for more than a decade.

In addition to his daughter Tammy, Hughes is survived by his wife, Patricia; his son, Bradley Wayne Jr.; and his grandchildren Kylie, Skylar, Grant and Greer.

For those who have inquired about making a gift, the family kindly requests donations to USC or the Seattle Children’s Foundation.

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