By Robert Gunther
Andrew Heller likes to tell the story that the reason he went to the Wharton MBA program was that an air hockey table arrived at his frat house at Wesleyan University on the day he had set aside to fill out his Harvard application. “I chose to become fraternity air hockey champion rather than write my application,” he joked.
It was certainly an unlucky break for Harvard.
To say Heller is a devoted alumus is an understatement. He has been a member of the Wharton Graduate Advisory Board for the past nine years, chair of The Wharton Fund for the past three and has chaired several reunions. In June and July, he raced around the world for the “Triple Crown” of Wharton alumni events – attending all three global alumni forums, in Moscow, Shanghai and Mexico City (along with fellow graduate board member Matt Greene, WG’89). The global meetings represented just half of the six Wharton alumni events Heller attended in a two-month period.
Under his leadership, Wharton Fund donors increased from less than 6,000 in 2001 to approximately 7,500 in 2004, and annual contributions climbed from $5.6 million to approximately $6.5 million. The 2003 and 2004 MBA classes set new records for participation and donations. Of course, Heller doesn’t take credit for The Wharton Fund’s success. “It wasn’t me,” he said. “I greatly admire what Steve Oliveira has accomplished at Wharton. I’ve loved being involved in the Wharton Fund.”
His commitment reflects his gratitude to Wharton for giving him his start in business. “I have been extraordinarily fortunate in my life,” he said. “I love what I do for a living, and Wharton played a huge role in my ability to accomplish what I have. I realized that my education and the opportunities it afforded me were instrumental to my success.”
Born in Chicago, Heller became interested in business while working for his father’s electronics distribution company in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from Wharton in 1979, Heller joined Deloitte Haskins & Sells as a management consultant. Then, he left to found his own company, Heller Capital, a private investment company that provides financing for start-up companies and acquisitions in many industries, as well as for a variety of real estate ventures. Along the way, he bought a medical device manufacturer and grew the business by eightfold in three years. He also co-founded a company that originated the first mortgage over the Internet (and sold it before the dot-com bubble burst).
All of which doesn’t leave much time these days for air hockey – although he has an air hockey table, pool table and a number of other “toys” in the basement of his home in McLean, Virginia.
He is passionately devoted to education. “I decided in the early 90s that education would be the focus of my charitable efforts,” said Heller, who also chaired a capital campaign that raised millions of dollars for the Langley School, where his two children attended. “I believe great educational institutions will produce our leaders of the future.