David Tepper, With $67 Million Gift, Recalls Early Life

David Tepper woke up this morning in Pittsburgh facing a day filled with promise for his Pennsylvania hometown.

He would be announcing a $67 million donation to Carnegie Mellon University. Bringing his total gifts to more than $125 million, it would make Tepper, 56, the largest donor in the school’s history. Within a few hours he would attend a ceremony to inaugurate the Pittsburgh university’s ninth president.

In a telephone interview, the co-founder and president of Appaloosa Management LP, said he first thought this morning of last night’s dinner. He ate in Pittsburgh with Sandy Mellon, whose husband is part of the family that helped build the university, and who extended an invitation to visit her home in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, whenever he’s in town.

His second thought was of his father, an accountant who raised the family in East Liberty, a lower-middle-class Pittsburgh neighborhood.

“I really don’t talk to my dad, who died six years ago,” Tepper said on the phone, speaking from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “This morning I looked out the window and I said, ‘Dad, can you believe this?’”

Tepper’s gift will help create the David A. Tepper Quadrangle, a redevelopment of an area on campus that will include a new building and other amenities. It’s a $200 million project to be completed in 2018.

New President

The university’s ninth president, Subra Suresh, comes to the post after running the National Science Foundation.

“Subra and I have had many meetings, and Subra has a vision for this university. It’s a vision I really believe in, and it’s centered on entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Tepper, who earned a master’s degree in industrial administration from Carnegie Mellon. “This whole structure, this quad will basically tie together all parts of the university.”

Tepper, whose Appaloosa manages about $18 billion in assets, made today’s gift through his David A. Tepper Charitable Foundation. He couched the donation in the context of economic growth in Pittsburgh that includes Google Inc. opening an office, WaltDisney Co. creating a new studio, innovation in manufacturing, and an energy boom.

“This is the story of this city, Pittsburgh, which is growing again, having the chance to basically lead the nation again as it did in 1900,” said Tepper, whose pride extends to owning a piece of the Pittsburgh Steelers. “This is a vision for Pittsburgh and a vision for the United States of America, quite frankly.”

Starting Companies

“Just in the past five years, CMU has spun off more startup companies, per dollar of research money spent, than any other university in the country,” Suresh said. At the Quad, he expects interaction between the business school and the university’s computer science, engineering and fine arts departments.

“We have a unique opportunity to reshape the way in which opportunity and innovation take place in the university,” said the president, who invited Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, to speak at his investiture ceremony this afternoon.

Robert M. Dammon, the dean of the business school, said the quad is a necessary evolution. “The solutions to the world’s most pressing problems are not within a single discipline or even within the walls of a single school,” said Dammon, who, like Tepper and Suresh, spoke during a break from a trustees meeting today.

Parking Lot

The new home, to be built on what is now a parking lot, includes 180,000 square feet for the business school and 120,000 square feet for other uses.

“When you look at other business schools around the country, this is the only one conceived like that,” Tepper said. “They’re usually built in silos, this is for all the ideas of the university to come together in one place.”

At the investiture ceremony, Schmidt thanked the university “for inventing my field,” referring to the role of faculty members Allen Newell and Herbert Simon in the creation of modern computer science.

“I’m simply in awe of Carnegie Mellon,” Schmidt said.

“This place for some reason was the center for more innovation and wealth creation than has occurred in many, many decades in America. I don’t know why, but I know it’s true. And it’s important that you succeed for the next 100 years.”

On stage, Suresh noted that “more than most universities, CMU owes much to visionary local philanthropists.” He thanked Tepper for his gift and for his “trust in the growing potential in the university.”

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