When USC President C. L. Max Nikias called William McMorrow ’69, MBA ’70 to inform him that he had been selected to receive USC’s highest honor for alumni—the Asa V. Call Alumni Achievement Award—McMorrow was tempted to turn him down. Modest and contemplative, McMorrow prefers to stay out of the spotlight.
But along with humility, one of the USC trustee’s guiding principles is to be open to new opportunities.
“No matter what the idea is, I always try to say yes, at least at the beginning,” says McMorrow, who will be feted at USC’s 85th Annual Alumni Awards in April. That receptive attitude helped McMorrow build his real estate investment and management company, Kennedy Wilson, into a global success story. When he purchased the business in 1988, it had one office and 11 employees. Today, there are 25 offices and nearly 7,000 employees around the world.
Asked about his secrets to success, McMorrow says there are no tricks or shortcuts. It’s about creating relationships, recognizing and seizing opportunities and taking a few risks.
He brings that mindset to other parts of his life, too, including his passion for the ocean as a surfer, paddleboarder and all-around waterman. He recalls shocking a business partner on a trip to Hawaii when he caught a massive wave in an outrigger canoe with no apparent fear or hesitation.
“You have to take chances and put yourself out there,” he says.
If you are lucky enough to have any success, you’d better give back to the people and places that helped you along the way. I am so grateful to USC and all the people there who put me on the right path.William McMorrow
A Southern California native, McMorrow and his wife, Leslie, live not far from his childhood home in Malibu. Growing up, McMorrow was one of nine children in a family that extolled the value of hard work, with frequent reminders of the sacrifices of earlier generations from Ireland and Germany.
His father, a U.S. Navy fighter pilot, was a diehard Trojans football fan, and the McMorrow clan spent many Saturdays at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, rain or shine. Attending USC felt like destiny after McMorrow graduated from Loyola High School, and he now counts it among his luckiest decisions.
“Beyond what I learned in books, it was the friendships I made at USC that have been a big part of my success,” he says. “That is the real secret sauce of USC.” His oldest son, Tyler, is learning that firsthand as a junior majoring in business.
McMorrow’s connections to the Trojan Family helped him break into the business world, he explains, and lately he’s been focused on repaying the favor.
In addition to supporting USC Village and serving on the USC Board of Trustees since 2015, McMorrow established the Military Veterans Initiative, which helps student-veterans earn a USC degree and find employment. At the USC Marshall School of Business, he endowed the McMorrow Global Real Estate program and helped launch the Performance Science Institute. USC students can regularly be found interning at Kennedy Wilson.
“If you are lucky enough to have any success, you’d better give back to the people and places that helped you along the way,” he says. “I am so grateful to USC and all the people there who put me on the right path.”