The man behind the celebs: Bobby Turner brings Ashton Kutcher to Penn

K. Robert "Bobby' Turner, right, and tennis star Andre Agassi. Credit: Provided
K. Robert “Bobby’ Turner, right, and tennis star Andre Agassi. Credit: Provided

Real estate mogul K. Robert “Bobby” Turner has brought celebrities like Eva Longoria and Andre Agassi to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for his speaker series. On Wednesday, he brings Ashton Kutcher. But the man behind the celebrities may set the local media atwitter while he himself is virtually ignored.

Ironically, it’s Turner’s ideas about education, urban real estate development and definition of success in business that could change the world.

Turner, CEO and co-founder of the $3.5 billion Canyon Capital Realty Advisors based in Los Angeles, is a radical in an Armani suit. He tells Wharton students: “You should not define success by making financial change working at an investment bank. Rather, you should define it by the amount of meaningful change you make in the world.”

To encourage new definitions of success, he is working closely with Wharton to design a multi-disciplinary social impact curriculum that he will fund.

“Generations Y and Z want different things than previous generations did. I want to better prepare them with the necessary tools to be able to seek out and obtain jobs that inspire them,” said Turner.

He cites the success of shoe retailer TOMS, which donates a pair of shoes to a third world country for every pair purchased, as an indication of changing social mores. His dream for the program is “a student, who has an idea to solve childhood obesity, will be able to consult with the medical school and the nursing school as well as their Wharton professors.”

Turner practices what he preaches. His new fund, the Canyon Multifamily Impact Fund, will leverage his charter school partnership with former tennis star Andre Agassi to holistically upgrade the neighborhood in which they own buildings.

“A real estate developer makes money by raising rents or eliminating vacancies,” he said. “Buildings typically have 100 percent turnover in 18 to 24 months. The empty apartments not collecting rents are a huge cost to the landlord. Parents will want to live near their children’s schools. We plan to add security to make the neighborhoods safer. Thus, the buildings will become desirable.

Locally, Turner’s Canyon Agassi Charter School Fund was instrumental in establishing the KIPP charter schools in North Philadelphia. While acknowledging that advocating for charter schools can be controversial, he insists they are excellent operators.

Bringing Ashton Kutcher to town

Ashton Kutcher, who is television’s highest paid actor for his role on “Two and Half Men,” will be speaking Wednesday at Penn. The event, open only to school staff, students and alumni, is sold out. About 3,000 will be there.

“We announced Ashton Kutcher’s talk and it sold out in two hours,” Turner proudly noted.

He expects Kutcher, who is revered in the tech world for his early investment and support of Skype, Foursquare and Flipboard, to talk about how having a sick brother affected his life and his charity Thorn that fights against the sexual exploitation of children using technology.

At the Teen Choice Awards, Kutcher urged kids to work hard (“I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work”). The heartthrob defined sexy as “being really smart.”


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