An $11.5 million gift from Aurelia and Brad Heppner, BBA, BS, BA ’88, and their family to SMU Cox School of Business will strengthen the School’s commitment to fostering the leadership skills of tomorrow’s executives and to investing in groundbreaking research that impacts the business world.

The Heppners announced on Oct. 8 that they have committed $10 million to establish the Heppner Family Commons, a centerpiece of the future Cox School renovation and expansion project that will act as a new hub for collaboration among members of the Cox community. Additionally, the Heppner Endowments for Research Organizations (HERO) will give $1.5 million to support Cox faculty research.

“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,” says SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “We also thank HERO for supporting the pioneering research of Cox faculty.”

The Heppner Family Commons will serve as the collaborative heart of the Fincher Building in the Cox School of Business. It will provide an elegant place for students, faculty and community members to generate and share vibrant ideas that power innovation. The expansive, light-filled Commons will be a distinctive calling card for the School.

“SMU’s Cox School of Business is a vital part of Dallas’ thriving business community,” says Brad Heppner, a recognized leader in the alternative investment industry. “We are proud to invest in the next generation of business leaders who are building their skills in the Cox School and in faculty who conduct ambitious research.”

As globalization and the speed of technological innovation continue to grow, businesses increasingly look to universities to produce graduates who can work with people of all backgrounds and weather rapid change. The Heppner Family Commons will provide a vital space for interpersonal learning outside the classroom. “Resilience and collaboration fuel innovation,” says David Miller, chair of the Cox School Executive Board. “The Heppners’ gift will help Cox shape future business leaders, and we are grateful for their generosity.”

Matching the traditional collegiate Georgian architectural design of other campus buildings, the open-concept Commons will attract outstanding students, faculty and corporate partners. Furnished workstations and study rooms will strengthen the Cox School’s efforts to build a “9-to-9 culture,” wherein students choose to stay on campus from morning to night because they benefit significantly from the teamwork and problem-solving they do between classes. Students will find a second home in the vibrant gathering spaces where they will relax between classes, work on team projects and share coffee and ideas with their professors.

“Cox facilities must support contemporary pedagogy, which emphasizes engaged learning and collaboration,” says Matthew B. Myers, Cox School dean, Tolleson Chair of Business Leadership and David B. Miller Endowed Professor of Business. “We are grateful to the Heppners for empowering our students to build skills top employers look for.”

HERO’s $1.5 million donation will support Cox faculty research that pursues cutting- edge ideas. HERO finds and funds innovative ways to make life better for individuals, families and communities in Texas and beyond. A public-private initiative of The Beneficient Company Group LP, its clients and its founders, HERO identifies Texas university research programs to designate as beneficiaries of trusts established by Beneficient clients.

“The Heppners’ generosity will have a tremendous impact on the Cox School of Business for years to come,” says SMU Vice President for Development and External Affairs Brad E. Cheves. “Countless students and faculty will benefit from their investment in collaborative problem-solving and important business research.”

Brad & Aurelia Heppner Family Commons

Brad Heppner is the founder, chairman and CEO of Beneficient, which empowers individual and smaller institutional investors with a platform built to offer a simple, rapid and cost-effective way to access liquidity from their alternative assets. Previously, Brad was the majority owner and chairman of the Crossroads Group. A recognized leader in the alternative investment industry, he has founded 10 alternative investment companies, including PEN Indemnity Insurance Company Ltd., the Crossroads Group LP, Constitution Capital Partners LLC and Capital Analytics. Earlier in his career, he held several positions at Goldman Sachs, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur charitable foundation and Bain & Company. He has also served as an adjunct professor for private equity in the MBA program at Texas Christian University.

Originally from Kansas, Brad was a founder and previous director of his hometown’s community foundation and currently serves on the Cox School’s executive board. He earned a master’s degree in management from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University and a BBA, BBS and BA from SMU, where he was a member of student government and the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.

Aurelia Heppner is Beneficient’s enterprise program manager and the co-founder of HERO. Since HERO’s inception in 2010, Aurelia has worked to define and drive the relationship between Beneficient and the charitable endowment. The result is both an expansive philanthropic footprint for Beneficient as a leading company and an impressive roster of partnerships and deep relationships among HERO, Texas universities and K-12 educators to provide funding for academic research.

Prior to her work with Beneficient and HERO, Aurelia was a senior business development manager for Maxsys Solutions LLC, a leading placement and recruiting firm focused on the technology sector.

As an active member of the Dallas community, Aurelia serves as a sustaining member of the Junior League of Dallas and as an active member of NCL Silver Star. She has also piloted a number of other programs for nonprofits and educational institutions in and around the metroplex.

Throughout her career, Aurelia has also dedicated herself to her family as a proud working mother.

Originally from France, Aurelia grew up on a sailboat, traveling the world with her parents, then relocated to Texas to attend SMU on an academic scholarship. She holds a BA in business and marketing from the University of Texas at Dallas.

The Heppners have five children — one of whom, Ava, is a first-year student at SMU.