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Colleges to Share Success of Billionaire Professor

Donations: Teacher who started high-tech firm will give $50 million to UCLA and UC Irvine.

December 22, 1999|KENNETH R. WEISS and P.J. HUFFSTUTTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A UCLA professor who helped launch a high-tech company while on leave from teaching and quickly amassed a $4-billion fortune announced Tuesday that he is giving a total of $50 million to the UCLA and the UC Irvine schools of engineering.

"It's payback time," said Henry Samueli, co-founder of Broadcom Corp., a communications chip maker based in Irvine. "UCLA has been very understanding about my starting a company. I hope to help promote the next guy who is going to start a Broadcom."

UCLA will receive $30 million, its second-largest gift, while UC Irvine will receive $20 million, the largest cash gift ever to that campus.

Samueli's donation reflects a growing trend among the technology elite who are shedding their reputations for stinginess and beginning to approach civic duty with the same entrepreneurial spirit that made them billionaires.

For Samueli--whose net worth has exploded from "comfortable" in 1995 to more than $4.3 billion today--donations also represent smart business. The UCLA and UC Irvine engineering schools are two places where Broadcom competes for top engineering graduates.

The schools "have become an amazing, untapped resource of talent," said Terry Holdt, chairman and chief executive of Entridia, a small chip maker based in Irvine. "For years, everyone else was running straight to Stanford. But people are starting to understand that there's a lot of very talented people right here in Southern California."

Scholarships, Endowed Chairs

In exchange for the gifts, the highly ranked UCLA School of Engineering and Applied Science and UC Irvine's School of Engineering will bear Samueli's name.

Both schools will offer Samueli scholarships to undergraduates, Samueli fellowships for graduate students and endowed Samueli chairs to perhaps a dozen of the most promising faculty.

"I won't let the money be wasted on bureaucracy or media buzz," said Samueli, 45. "I was once a struggling student and a young faculty member. I know what they go through. I'm here to help them."

Samueli, the son of Holocaust survivors from Poland, grew up working in the family's tiny liquor store in East Los Angeles. He enrolled at UCLA at the age of 16, earning his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering.

"My parents could not have afforded to send me to a private school," he said. "I don't want money to be a reason that any highly intelligent, highly motivated person cannot go to college."

Samueli kept up his connection to UCLA in his first years out of school. While working as an engineer at TRW, he taught at UCLA part time as a visiting lecturer.

A.R. Frank Wazzan, the engineering school's dean, was so impressed with Samueli's enthusiasm and dedication to his students that he made an exception to the school's rule against hiring its own graduates and offered him a full-time professorship in 1985.

"I sort of babied him," Wazzan said. "He was very bright and very promising."

Wazzan made another exception for Samueli, allowing him to go on indefinite leave from UCLA in 1995 to help one of his former UCLA graduate students, Henry T. Nicholas III, launch Broadcom.

Broadcom makes communication chips, the tiny pieces of silicon that allow computers and other machines to talk to one another. The market for such network devices is exploding: Ten million homes in the United States are expected to share a high-speed network connection for Web browsing, entertainment and other activities by 2003.

Because of these chips, teenagers will be able to download digital music into their car stereos, homemakers will be able to use a television remote control to shop for groceries on the Web, and traveling executives will be able to flip on their home security system through their laptop computer.

So Broadcom has ridden Wall Street's enthusiasm for technology stocks. The company's stock has rocketed since it went public at $24 a share in 1998. Since then, the stock has split once. On Tuesday, it closed at $229.88 a share.

Normally, professors are allowed a maximum of two years on leave. But Wazzan arranged for Samueli to keep his faculty position. "He can stay as long as I say he can stay," Wazzan said.

Although Samueli said he has no plans to return full time to UCLA, Wazzan thinks he may change his mind some years down the road when he grows weary of the hectic pace of a high-tech company.

Samueli, who has felt besieged by requests for donations, said that initially he intended to donate only to his alma mater. But he expanded his plans to include UC Irvine after Broadcom relocated from Westwood to Irvine in 1995.

"It's in the interests of Broadcom to have a strong engineering department nearby," he said. "We want to help grow the school into one of the best in the country."

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