Larry Taff (’80, accounting) has spent his 34-year career climbing the corporate ladder to become a C-suite executive with Arthur Andersen and The Shidler Group.
Yet for Taff, being successful also means improving other people’s lives.
In college, that meant helping his friend and roommate Mitchell Hill (’80, economics) become focused on his studies and land a job with Arthur Andersen. Later in life, it meant serving as a mentor for more than a decade with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and paying full tuition for select Cal Poly Pomona business majors through his scholarship fund.
Now, a $5.3-million bequest from Taff and his wife, Kheng See Ang, will ensure that his penchant for bettering people’s lives continues at Cal Poly Pomona.
“My father grew up as the son of a sharecropper in Oklahoma in the 1920s and 1930s,” says Taff, whose bequest is the largest single donation to the College of Business Administration. “It was through the kindness and generosity of others that he and his brothers were able to get off the farm, go to college, and make a better life for themselves and their families.
“My wife was able to come to the United States from Malaysia for college thanks to the Fulbright scholarship program. When I was at Cal Poly Pomona, I never dreamed that I would be in a position to help others the way my father and wife were helped. Being able to do this is a dream come true for Kheng See and I,” says Taff.
Deciding to direct his generosity to his alma mater was an easy decision.
“I was a clean sheet of paper when I arrived at Cal Poly Pomona,” he says. “My parents were well-educated and taught me how to be a good student, but they didn’t know much about accounting or life in the business world.
“The school’s learn-by-doing approach really helped me learn about business and gaining relevant skills. By the time I started at Arthur Andersen I hit the ground running and people wanted me on their engagement teams because I was one of the few young hires who actually knew how to do stuff – it wasn’t all theory.”
Some of the bequest money will be directed toward the Mitchell C. Hill Memorial Endowment, named after his friend. Hill died late last year and Taff worked tirelessly with the college, Hill’s family and founding donor, Avanade, to honor Hill’s legacy. The endowment will focus on applied business technology, an area Hill specialized in as a major player in Seattle’s tech scene.
Taff and his wife have been helping Cal Poly Pomona long before the bequest. In fact, they have awarded more than $200,000 in scholarships that support CBA military veterans and athletes for several years. However, a Taff scholarship offers more than money. He also encourages scholarship recipients to talk to him for advice on career or academic issues.
“Being able to have a personal relationship with the scholarship recipients really makes it come alive for me,” he says.
Tiffany Dinh (’13, management and human resources) frequently reached out to Taff and the two have formed an enduring friendship. In fact, Dinh does not consider a career move without consulting him first.
“Larry has been with me every step of the way,” says Dinh. “He continues to invest his efforts in helping me build momentum to achieve my own career success. Both of us came into this donor/recipient situation without any expectations, but I am truly blessed to have Larry continually inspire and advise me through life-changing events.”
For Taff, that’s what giving is all about.