David Cush is co-chair of The Second Century Campaign Steering Committee for San Francisco. He hosted the San Francisco kickoff along with Frank M. Dunlevy ’71, the committee’s honorary co-chair. He received B.S., B.F.A. and M.B.A. degrees from SMU.
Campaign Update: You currently serve as president and CEO of Virgin America Airlines, and you served for many years as a senior executive at American Airlines. How did your time at SMU prepare you for your career in business?
Cush: What I learned at SMU has been incredibly helpful to me throughout my career. I started out in the Meadows School and originally intended to go into broadcasting. But I was running a record store and also working in broadcasting while I was in school, and I discovered that what I really enjoyed was business.
Unlike the majority of the class, I had never taken a business course before I went off to the Cox School. But it meant that I had a clean slate. And the training I received, especially accounting, gave me an understanding of the science of business, and an understanding of how you evaluate businesses.
CU: Your support of SMU has included an emphasis on scholarships. Why is that important to you?
Cush: I came from a middle class family, but I was one of seven kids. At SMU I was a scholarship recipient, and that financial support made it possible for me to attend the University and receive the extraordinary education that I did.
So I recognize how a scholarship can affect a person’s life, making it possible for qualified students, people who are very capable, to get the benefits of the kind of education and training that SMU offers.
CU: Would you say that the view of SMU held by people outside of Dallas has changed?
Cush: Absolutely. Traditionally SMU was seen as a nice, safe place to send your kids for four years, a beautiful university in the heart of a diverse city. But with SMU’s rise to No. 56 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings and the huge rise in average SAT scores, what people are talking about is the University’s strong and growing academic reputation.
That was the constant theme at a recent event in Napa with alumni, prospective students and parents. Everyone was talking about the University’s academics.
CU: How do you see SMU’s future?
Cush: I think SMU’s future is very exciting. It’s a great university that can be even greater, given its location, the business and technological acumen of the area, and the strong foundation it is currently building. And the stronger it is seen to be, the easier it will be to attract more top students, more top faculty and more donors who see an opportunity to have an impact.
We’re already seeing from the current campaign how successful the University can be. As SMU continues to progress, its appeal to donors will only continue to grow.