By Chris Watts and Maria La Ganga
Glenn Hickerson ’59 and his wife, Jane Fortune Hickerson, decided long ago to commit themselves to support young people who likely could not afford the cost of college, and who certainly could not afford to miss the opportunity of a college education.
“Jane and I have a shared vision,” he said.
That vision inspired the Hickersons to make the single largest gift, currently valued at approximately $40 million, exclusively devoted to financial aid and scholarships in the history of Claremont McKenna College. It is the fifth-largest gift overall.
“The Hickersons understand CMC must attract students of superior academic and leadership abilities, regardless of their financial need,” said CMC President Hiram E. Chodosh, “thus we are all profoundly grateful for this transformational gift.”
Their generosity is key to the continuing growth of the Student Imperative, an initiative launched in early 2014 by President Chodosh to raise $100 million for financial aid and scholarships. CMC surpassed that goal in just two years, and it continues to build on the fundraising effort to attract and support the most deserving students, regardless of their ability to pay.
Glenn Hickerson grew up in Westwood, Calif. Racism, segregation, and poverty in Los Angeles during the 1950s and ’60s made a deep impression on Glenn and his family.
They watched as Watts burned. They saw an employee’s family struggle in a system that amounted to “forced low income” for life. Hickerson’s mother was a teacher, his aunt, an elementary school principal, and “we were struck with the problems” of those denied a good education.
“The high school graduation rate was less than 50 percent” for low-income black youth, he said. “The college attendance rate was just very low. Few were getting into a junior college, let alone a four-year institution...We were, as a family, very concerned about the inequality of opportunity.”
The Hickerson Fortune Endowed Scholarship Fund will provide scholarships and need-based support for students who, among other attributes, are:
- from underrepresented backgrounds;
- within the first generation of a family to attend college;
- from families that have a household income that falls within the lowest quartile of their admission cohort.
“I hope that our scholarship fund will allow CMC to strengthen its outreach and that other alumni will add similar scholarship support,” Glenn Hickerson said.
During a series of interviews from his home and office in San Francisco, Glenn Hickerson, now 80, reflected on a decades-long career in aviation and property management, and cited the role his education played at every step along the way.
“My mother taught at Chadwick School to pay my tuition at a boarding school for my junior and senior high school years,” he said.
When it came time to choose a college, he wanted to attend a small liberal arts school near Los Angeles to be close to his parents, in part because his mother had been diagnosed with cancer.
Hickerson said he was attracted to CMC for more than just its location. He was impressed by the individual care and attention that students received from faculty and administration and the freedom to take classes at the other Claremont Colleges.
“I felt enthusiasm for the young college from everyone I met at CMC,” Hickerson said, referring to what was then Claremont Men’s College, which was enrolling just its 10th freshman class as he arrived in 1955.
Although he eventually hit his stride as a business administration major, Hickerson said, his sophomore year was a rocky one. The dean of students had asked him to room with a troubled student whose parents had donated generously to the school. His mission: to help keep the young man from flunking out.
“But it went the other way,” Hickerson said ruefully. “He smoked, drank a lot, and played poker with his buddies when he should have been studying, sometimes all-night long. I had to move out of the room at times to study, and on weekends go home to sleep.”
Despite the difficult year, Hickerson soaked up knowledge about the airline business working summer and holiday jobs at United, encouraged by his mentor at CMC, Professor Arthur Kemp. He later followed Kemp’s advice and attended New York University Graduate School of Business (now named Stern) for his master’s of business administration degree.
Drawing upon a love of sailing, which he pursued with the Claremont Colleges Yacht Club, Hickerson spent two years in the U.S. Coast Guard before returning to Southern California in 1962 to attend UCLA, where he studied economics and monetary policy.
He credits the business and entrepreneurial skills he learned at CMC and as a graduate student—along with a lifelong passion for airplanes—for shifting his plans from a possible teaching career. His career in aviation was about to take off.
While at UCLA, Hickerson was introduced to the then-new chief financial officer for Douglas Aircraft Co. and was hired as a financial analyst at the Douglas offices in Santa Monica.
He later became the first treasurer of a finance corporation established to facilitate sales financing. Over the next five decades, Hickerson established himself as a significant figure in international aviation.
His career took him around the world to negotiate deals on behalf of airlines, aircraft-leasing companies, and many countries. Two major players in the burgeoning aircraft leasing business were GPA and GATX Corp., and Hickerson served as an executive at both of them.
Outside of the aircraft-leasing sector, Hickerson showcased the business skills he honed at CMC in other ways, as an aviation innovator and deft negotiator. Among his career highlights was an air tanker deal he brokered between the Royal Air Force and British Airways for the Lockheed L-1011-500 TriStar.
Lockheed wanted to get out of the commercial aircraft business but had a dozen new L-1011’s in production, to be delivered over a year. British Airways decided to put its own fleet of near-new similar airplanes up for sale at half the new price; doing so would undercut Lockheed’s ability to sell its planes in production.
At the Farnborough Airshow in England, Hickerson heard the British Royal Air Force was about to make an air tanker purchase. An idea struck: the RAF could buy the British Airways planes to convert to tankers. That would not only save the RAF money, but would keep the market open for the dozen planes Lockheed had on its hands.
Hickerson convinced British Airways to pay for a Lockheed analysis of the airliner tanker conversion. He used that study to persuade the RAF to purchase the used airliners. The RAF got comparable tankers at a fraction of the new cost. By not having to compete against the British Airways surplus aircraft, Lockheed was able to find buyers for its new planes.
Hickerson still stays busy these days helping broker an occasional aircraft deal. His main business focus is property management. Model airplanes and photos throughout his office at the Presidio in San Francisco serve as a timeline of his career and the history of his industry.
Had it not been for his education at CMC, Hickerson said, he might have had an entirely different life and path in industry.
Jane Fortune Hickerson was born in San Francisco and grew up in San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. Her father, George Fortune, had immigrated from Scotland. Before the U.S. entered World War II, George Fortune headed a Seattle fundraising drive for the donation of a Spitfire fighter to the British Royal Air Force. He later joined the Army Air Corps, spending three years in Italy and North Africa leaving service as a Major. During those three years Jane and her mother lived with Jane’s grandparents in San Rafael. Jane’s grandfather, George Hind, was a founder of The Branson School and chairman of the board of regents of the University of California. Jane’s mother attended Smith College and graduated from UC Berkeley. Jane graduated from Katherine Delmar Burke’s School in San Francisco where she was senior class president. She then went on to a year of school in London, and had the honor of being presented in Court.
Jane met Glenn when she was working at Senator John Tunney’s office in Washington and Glenn was campaign vice chairman of Northern Californians for Tunney. Glenn had sought the Senator’s help on an airline regulatory matter, which required multiple meetings. Senator Tunney was regularly late for their appointments, sometimes for hours. During those long waits, Glenn would chat with Jane about their lives in California. One night, when the Senator kept them late into the evening, Glenn found the courage to ask Jane to accompany him to dinner.
The regulatory decision did not work out as Glenn had wanted. “It wasn’t good for the airline, but it turned out to be good for me,” he said.
The Hickersons hope that by providing money for scholarships, they will enable future generations of CMC students to attend college and reach their dreams.
Access to a quality education, to college, to greater opportunity, is the only way for people to fight inequality and make a good life for themselves, Glenn Hickerson said. Without that, “it’s not going to get better.”
“CMC gave me confidence in myself to pursue my ambitions,” said Hickerson, who wants to share the gifts that Claremont McKenna gave him. “People suggested over the years that I had an entrepreneurial spirit, which CMC most certainly contributed to.”