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Lou and Kathy Gatto set sights on future with Global Social Impact Fund at Penn State Smeal

April 20, 2021

Lou and Kathy Gatto
Lou and Kathy Gatto's $1.1 million commitment to Smeal will help students leverage the power of business to develop solutions to an array of regional or thematic social challenges.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Smeal College of Business alumnus Lou Gatto and his wife, Kathy, have made a $1.1 million commitment as part of their estate plans to create the Gatto Global Social Impact Fund at Smeal.

According to Erik Foley, director of Smeal’s Center for the Business of Sustainability, the Gatto Global Social Impact Fund will provide financing, resources, and mentorship for socially minded student entrepreneurs, drawing on the strengths of the college and the University ― including the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Penn State’s Small Business Development Center, and Invent Penn State ― to help them succeed.

The fund will support programs that help students leverage the power of business to develop solutions to regional or thematic social challenges that may include hunger, homelessness, the transition from coal to renewable sources of energy such as solar or wind power, or other salient issues as they arise. It will also provide funding for things like social entrepreneurship speakers or program support for student interest groups.

Gatto said that while he and his wife have always tried to do things that would leave a smaller carbon footprint, they’ve only recently learned just how important sustainability really is.

“It really appealed to my wife and me that entrepreneurs can do things that benefit the earth,” he said. “As soon as I met with Erik and learned about his vision and his mission for the Center for the Business of Sustainability, I knew this was the right way for us to get involved.”

Smeal leadership envisions the fund as another resource students can utilize to help benefit the greater good.

“Today’s students increasingly see business as a tool to make the world a better place,” said Dean Charles H. Whiteman. “I am grateful for Lou and Kathy’s vision and support. Their gift will enable our students and our community to leverage the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Penn State to develop solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing society today.”   

Lou Gatto earned a degree in accounting from Penn State in 1968 and began his career at Price Waterhouse (now PriceWaterhouseCoopers) in New York City later that same year. He traveled extensively for work and an assignment with Phelps Dodge in 1972 first took him to southern California.

Gatto said that he fell in love — first with the landscape and the climate, and later with Kathy, his wife of almost 40 years.

“I’ve been an avid fisherman and boater my whole life, so the chance to do that regularly completely changed where I saw myself,” he said.

He relocated to southern California in 1974 and worked to build a life and a career there.

Gatto said that by the time he turned 30, he’d grown “too comfortable” in his career. He left on an extended boating trip to consider his options and returned with a plan to start his own business. Shortly thereafter, Gatto McFerson, a CPA firm, was born.

Gatto McFerson originally focused on tax and accounting for all types of businesses. However, two of the firms’ earliest clients were veterinary hospitals, which helped lead the firm to focus primarily on the financials of veterinary medicine. Gatto McFerson has helped to buy or sell more than 300 animal hospitals and clinics and is a widely known and respected partner in the veterinary industry.

Gatto retired in 2018, although he still does some occasional consulting work for longstanding clients whom he also considers to be good friends.

Among his many career achievements, he said he is most proud to have been recognized with the H. Don Mahan Award — the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association’s highest honor. Gatto was just the fourth recipient who was not a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

“To be honored by your peers and the people you’ve worked for — there’s no greater honor,” he said.

Kathy Gatto studied art and architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Berkeley, and at California State University, Los Angeles, becoming a painter and stained-glass artist.

Gatto observed that whenever he and Kathy traveled over the years — whether for business or pleasure — the people they met have always wanted the same basic things: a happy family, food to eat, and a safe place to live. He said that this understanding has shaped their philanthropic goal to create a better world.

“We’ve got to start really looking at the planet and sustaining it for everyone. It just has to be part of the formula,” he said.

Gatto described his wife as a talented artist but said that her real passion — a passion they share — is animals. The Gattos currently have nearly 70 animals on their nearly 1.4-acre Agoura Hills property, including chickens, exotic birds, tortoises, fish, and dogs.

“The animals bring us such joy and help us connect with Mother Nature,” he said.

The Gattos previously established the Gatto Trustee Scholarship and have made provisions for the scholarship as part of their estate plan as well.

“Lou has this very entrepreneurial spirit,” Foley said. “He understands how important ‘out-of-the box thinking’ can be. Their gift demonstrates how deeply committed he and Kathy are to creating opportunities for our students to dive into the social challenges of tomorrow, consider every angle, and to utilize the sort of grit and tenacity that’s needed to develop amazing, winning ideas that can make a positive, sustainable impact that benefits people.”

This gift will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

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