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Beneficient Group founder and wife donate $11.5 million to build SMU business school commons

The Heppner Family Commons will be done in the Georgian architectural design of the existing buildings on campus and will provide an open, collaborative space for students.

Dallas businessman and financier Brad Heppner was welcomed to the Southern Methodist University business school campus as an undergraduate student pursuing a triple major in the 1980s, thanks in part to a scholarship.

“We had a dedication out front with all the students. You had Cary Maguire, Ed Cox, and Trammell Crow — all out there dedicating the opening of those buildings,” Heppner said.

Now, with an $11.5 million gift from Heppner and his wife, Aurelia, his family’s name will adorn a brand-new commons area the university is planning as part of a $10 million renovation of existing Cox School of Business facilities.

In addition to the commons, their donation includes $1.5 million to support research faculty salaries and scholarships through the Heppner Endowments for Research Organizations.

“We hope for those to grow each year,” said Heppner, whose undergraduate scholarship was made possible by a Goldman Sachs professional and SMU alum. “It was my turn to follow in his footsteps and give back.”

The endowment fund is a nonprofit tied to Heppner’s Beneficient Group, a financial services firm started two years ago to help the ultra-wealthy turn nonliquid assets into cash.

“As we generate new gross business, there’s a percentage we are going to give away each year, and this is the first of those gifts,” Heppner said.

Beneficient has benefited from the uncertainty surrounding markets over the last six months as the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the U.S. economy on its head.

“Our company is designed to provide the capital to facilitate people’s needs for liquidity in times of uncertainty," Heppner said. "So Beneficent is actually built for this time that we’re in.”

Brad Heppner, CEO of Beneficient Group in Dallas.
Brad Heppner, CEO of Beneficient Group in Dallas.(Carly Geraci / Staff Photographer)

The Heppner Family Commons will be built in the Georgian architectural design of the existing buildings on the 230-acre campus and provide an open, collaborative space where students can spend time between courses. It will include workstations and study rooms.

The private university is still early in the process of planning the expansion and renovations, which will connect all three business school buildings.

SMU hopes the new amenities will boost the university’s appeal to prospective business students, and that it can help foster a “9 to 9” culture in which students are able to stay on campus longer and “benefit significantly from the teamwork and problem-solving” between courses. The university has about 7,000 undergraduate students.

“With this gift, the Heppners will give SMU students the space to work together with each other and our faculty, making critical connections and sparking inventive ideas,” SMU President R. Gerald Turner said in a statement.

Heppner serves on the business school’s executive board and his wife is enterprise program manager at Beneficient.

SMU has brought in a number of sizeable donations in the last year.

In November 2019, the school received a $100 million gift from the Galveston-based Moody Foundation to fund its eighth degree-granting school — the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies. It is the largest gift in the school’s 109-year history.

The Moody donation topped the previous highest gift received only a month earlier — a $50 million donation from David and Carolyn Miller for the business school.

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