In Tempe homebuilder Ira Fulton's world, one university building named after you is not enough. In June, Fulton gave $50 million to Arizona State University. In turn, they named the engineering school after him.
This week, the 71-year-old was lauded for giving $55 million to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
The contribution put his name on the private school's college of engineering and technology.
“To invest in those students and see the glow in their eyes and their love, it's quite overwhelming to me,” Fulton said Friday. “Everybody asks me what's the difference between the two schools. One is my alma mater, my state university, and the other is my church university. You can't compare them. They both have great students and a great faculty, but they have different cultures. They're all great people.”
Fulton is no stranger to philanthropy.
Between 1999 and now, he has donated $113 million for everything from scholarships to swimming lessons.
Business Week plans a Nov. 19 story on the nation's top 50 benefactors, and the magazine called Fulton, who would rank 35th on last year's list.
“I invest in our students,” he said. “They are our future. I don't make donations. I make investments. I tell everybody a donation is something you give and you let go of. An investment is something that you track.”
Fulton has given nearly $50 million to BYU since 1999, specifically providing funding for a supercomputer lab, virtual reality room and several new buildings on campus.
An announcement renaming the college of engineering was made Thursday.
“He's giving a lot of money," said R. Brent Adams, BYU associate professor of Industrial Design/Animation, in the BYU NewsNet. “What people don't understand is he gives a lot of time and energy too. It would be easy for him to sit in Arizona and just send checks, but he doesn't. He comes; he gets involved; he meets with students; he meets with faculty. He's just so interested in the students.”
Fulton grew up in Tempe and founded his company 28 years ago. He was a paperboy who delivered to ASU's Grady Gammage. He walked the route until he scraped enough money together to buy his first bicycle.
“If you've done that, you know what trying to be an achiever is,” he said. “I have had a lot of people in my lifetime help me get where I am. I'm blessed. Everybody says ‘how can you afford to give so much?’ I say ‘I can't afford not to.’ My blessings exceed my giving."
Besides ASU and BYU's main campus, Fulton and his wife, Mary Lou, have made donations to BYU campuses in Hawaii and Idaho. In Arizona, the couple invests money is American Indian scholarships.
“My wife and I have almost 150 boys and girls going to 11 different universities off of the the Navajo and Apache reservations,” Fulton said.
More than 50 students from Mongolia, six from Cambodia and one from Africa are attending college thanks the homebuilder.
Last month, Fulton surprised eight winners of awards given to Hispanic teachers on behalf of his company and Chicanos Por La Causa when he upped the prize money from $2,500 to $5,000 without telling anyone. Fulton estimates he gives to 50 or 60 businesses including the Salvation Army, United Way, YMCA and the Boy Scouts.
While his gifts vary depending on profit, Fulton said his philanthropy averages $15 million a year, but he'd like to increase it to $25 million. He says he gives half of his profits to charity.
“It's not what you do today,” Fulton said. “It's what's going to happen in generations to come. We're in a country now where we're no longer an industrial nation. We're really a high-tech educational nation. And if we're going to educate the world, I want our students to be the best. Period.”