Robert Lu ’03 got into the investing game early. Before graduating from high school, he took a job at a commercial printing business where he would spend his lunch breaks reading the stacks of press sheets – documents that just happened to be the annual reports of major Fortune 500 companies. On a whim, Lu tried his hand at a few investments; on one occasion, watching his stocks jump 20 percent, then sinking to less than half of their initial value. Undaunted, he learned from his mistakes and continued to invest his modest earnings. Before long, he had accumulated enough to rent his own house, pay for his first car in cash, and fund his education as a finance major at LMU.
Over two decades later, Lu still owns the car – a 2001 sports sedan – and has diligently invested the amount he’s saved on car payments over the years. The gains from that portfolio have now been channeled toward Lu’s next major investment: a matching gift challenge of $100,000 to amplify the impact of the Student Investment Fund (SIF), an initiative launched by the LMU College of Business Administration (CBA) to provide students with hands-on experience in portfolio management and investment strategy. “When the SIF was originally established as a club 20 years ago, I was one of the first students to join,” explained Lu. “Up to that point, my success as an investor had amounted to sheer dumb luck – there was no due diligence. The SIF provided a structured setting to play with – and take responsibility for – real money, real stakes, and those lessons have stayed with me throughout my career.”
Lu’s $100,000 gift soon had a match from none other than former CBA Dean John Wholihan, Ph.D., who inaugurated the SIF with $200,000 from the Dean’s Discretionary Fund. Thanks to careful management by generations of students, the fund has grown to more than $1 million and the club has since been formalized as a one-year class for upper division CBA students. “LMU was among the first West Coast schools to offer a learning experience of this kind,” said Wholihan. “I wanted students to recognize the ramifications of their investments, through taking part in a real situation with measurable results. They quickly realize that it’s not enough just to accumulate a pile of cash – it’s vital to think critically about where that money is being invested, and how financial decisions can be oriented toward serving the greater good. That’s ultimately what motivates me to continue investing in the SIF.”
Since serving as dean between 1984 and 2007, Wholihan has maintained a positive influence among the CBA community; his dual emphasis on ethical practice as much as career success is closely aligned with the college’s mission to develop business leaders driven by moral courage and creative confidence. “The current class-based format of the SIF has been successful, but we’ve always wanted the SIF to have a bigger impact for more students,” said Josh Spizman, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Finance. “These gifts will enable us to apply and expand the SIF model to the university-wide Lion Investing Society (LIS), providing the group with a starter fund of $100,000 to invest.”
The college has long been an advocate of financial literacy for all, and the new LIS Lion Cub Fund will allow everyone from dance majors to engineering students to gain a practical understanding of stock trading. “The remainder of Robert and John’s gifts will go toward the SIF endowment, and the annual distribution will support both the SIF class and the Lion Investing Society with tools and other financial initiatives,” said Spizman. “The funds from the endowment could be used for anything from Bloomberg Terminal subscriptions and extracurricular courses, to participation in competitions and traveling to conferences. Essentially, anything that will increase our students’ engagement with best practices in investing, learning through direct experience of risk and reward.”
The matching challenge has set an important precedent for future gifts to the endowment, which stands to have a major impact on the learning experience. One of Spizman’s primary goals is to expose students to the complexities and potentials of financial analysis as soon as possible in their college careers; that early immersion arguably correlates with better jobs after graduating and a robust approach to financial management over the course of a lifetime. For Lu, that curiosity was sparked before he had even started college; however, it took an LMU education to transform an initial talent into a sustainable career path, leveraging his instinct for measured analysis and audacity of action.
“In giving back to the SIF, I knew I wanted to generate a gift-giving ecosystem – something that would be self-sustaining,” Lu said. “An old proverb came to mind: you give a person a fish and they eat for a day, teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime. But what if they were actually growing the fish? That’s what happens when you teach a group of students to be good investors and give them an appreciation for giving back to the global community.” As Lu discovered early, investing isn’t just a way to support a personal lifestyle – it’s a method of distributing the flow of wealth, creating a shared financial climate where we can all thrive.
To support the Student Investment Fund Endowment and learn more about funding priorities in the LMU College of Business Administration, contact Roberta Kuhlman, CBA senior director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit here.