From Exxon to Enron: Alumnus Touches All the Bases

Richard Willing
Photography: Steve Babuljak
Published: Spring 2011

After nearly 35 years, former GW baseball coach Mike Toomey can still tick off the attributes of his former center fielder like he was reading from a scouting report.

“Avram ‘Ave’ Tucker,” said Toomey, now a senior scouting adviser to the Kansas City Royals Major League franchise. “Excellent gap-to-gap hitter, havoc on the bases, good routes to the ball in the outfield, always had a smile on his face, a great, great teammate.

“I remember thinking ‘I wish I had nine like him.’ ”

The friends of GW’s School of Business can be forgiven for feeling the same way. Long after he hung up his spikes and acquired a BBA in accounting, Ave (pronounced “gave”) Tucker remains a standout on a very solid team of GWSB alumni.

He’s been a giver, almost since graduation in 1977, setting up a scholarship fund, helping build the current school and funding a professorial fellowship focused on the study and teaching of leadership. He has mentored graduate students in forensic accounting, his chosen field, and has served as a key West Coast point of contact at TM Financial Forensics in San Francisco, where he is co-founder and CEO. When a recent trip to Japan took Tucker out of town, he lined up a pinch hitter to address visiting MBA candidates on forensic accounting.

Mitchell Blaser, BBA, ’73, chair of the GWSB’s Board of Advisors, called Tucker a “3 W” man—an alumnus who gives of his wealth and wisdom and also “puts in the work” with current school leadership, faculty and, especially, students.

“Ave touches all the bases,” said Blaser, COO and CFO of Ironshore, the specialty property and casualty insurance firm. “I would have said that even before I found out he was a baseball player.”

On paper, Tucker seemed fated to attend GW. He was born in the University hospital, as was his wife, Dianne Bostick. Both her parents are GW grads as was Tucker’s father, Simon, a World War II Navy linguist who attended the University’s law school at night during the 1950s while working at the State Department.

But serendipity, and baseball, played a large role. Coming out of John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Md., Tucker believed his best shot at a professional career was to gain experience and exposure by playing college ball in Florida. Only 5’7” and with an average arm, he recruited himself to Rollins College but soon discovered he was overmatched by higher-rated prospects and scholarship players. Tucker returned to the D.C. area and enrolled at Montgomery College. In 1975, a summer-league teammate, Toomey, GW, ’74, revealed that he had been hired to coach GW’s Colonials. He offered Tucker a scholarship and installed him in center field, where the left-handed slap hitter rewarded Toomey’s faith by batting .380 during his first season.

Tucker starred at a time when the Colonials, lacking a home field, played on a diamond laid out along the Ellipse between the White House and the Washington Monument. Games were interrupted by landings and takeoffs of presidential helicopters bearing Gerald R. Ford in 1976 and Jimmy Carter a season later.

The lack of an outfield fence was both a curiosity—visitors for the nation’s bicentennial occasionally wandered into the field of play—and a bonus for GW’s savvy center fielder. “Penn State must have hit three 500-footers against us and I caught all of them,” Tucker recalled. “Their coach said they’d play us again, but only on a field with fences.”

In the classroom, Tucker took up accounting, following his father’s advice that the discipline offered the chance to go in a variety of professional directions. GWSB’s approach—an emphasis on theory—taught him to “think through the pros and cons” of accounting questions. That experience served Tucker well when, after five years in Washington at Arthur Andersen and Co., he joined Chicago-based accountant Alan Peterson, an exponent of the growing field of forensic accounting, as Peterson’s West Coast representative.

Forensic accounting, in what Tucker calls a “simple definition,” is the use of economic and financial information for investigative purposes, usually dispute resolution.

Why did a company go out of business, or default on a contract, or incur cost overruns on a project? Whose decisions are to blame? What are the costs and the damages? And, most challenging, what would profits have been if the enterprise had succeeded?

Tucker has built a career out of answering such questions, often as an expert witness in jury trials.

According to Peterson, still active in the field at age 82, the amiable, down-to-earth Tucker especially excelled at this phase of the craft.

“Ave is a brilliant accountant, but he’s also a leader, someone whose essential honesty comes through in any exchange,” said Peterson. “I knew he was going to be good when I hired him. I wish I could say I knew he was going to be great, but that is fundamentally his achievement.”

Tucker rewarded Peterson’s faith with one of the first cases he took on, a utility that incurred large cost overruns in building a hydroelectric plant. Experts employed by the utility, Tucker recalled, testified that the cost control systems employed were acceptable by industry standards—testimony that usually absolved a corporation of responsibility.

“But we [forensic accountants] could say how specifically costs went up, and why... More and more in dispute resolution there was a need for that, and we filled it,” Tucker explained.

The business grew with Tucker as a plaintiff’s or respondent’s expert witness in many of the major economic damages cases of the past quarter century: the Exxon Valdez accident, cost overruns on military programs and nuclear power plant construction, Enron, tobacco litigation and many others. All told, he has taken part in about 20 cases in which the claims of the rival parties were more than $1 billion apart.

In one especially high profile case in 2005, Tucker helped mega-investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway defeat the IRS’ attempt to dun it for more taxes. According to court records, the heart of the controversy was whether Buffett’s company was entitled to tax breaks for loans it took out around the time it was profiting from stock purchases.

The IRS’ position was that the tax breaks should be disallowed because the loans were taken out to finance the stock buys. Tucker, working from two years’ worth of daily cash-flow reports he compiled, showed that there was no traceable link between the debt and the stock purchases. The judge who found in favor of Berkshire Hathaway’s position leaned heavily on Tucker’s testimony in concluding that there were “numerous alternative paths the debt could have taken.”

Tucker, called to testify just after Buffett left the stand, was mildly disappointed that the investing legend didn’t stick around to hear him dissect the Berkshire books. “It turns out he had to go back to the office,” Tucker said. “He’s still making the basic daily decisions and so they needed him there.”

In his first or second year out of school, Tucker got in the habit of giving to GW, making what he recalls as a $25 contribution while employed as an $11,700-per-year auditing specialist. The gifts have increased as the years have gone by. The professorship in business leadership, with James Bailey as its first occupant, was funded by and is named for Tucker. Longtime associate Peterson, with a gentle Tucker nudge, made a recent gift to a law school program on government contracts. And Tucker is a big supporter of Doug Guthrie, the new GWSB dean, and his emphasis on executive education as promising ground for the School of Business. But Tucker may be proudest of the money he’s given to endow scholarships based on need.

Tucker, a partner in or owner of two consulting firms purchased by public companies, ascribes his philanthropic philosophy to family and friends.

“My parents emphasized that the opportunities I have come from society and that we should therefore give time and money back to good causes,” Tucker said. “And my good friend and mentor Alan [Peterson] pushed giving to education causes, in particular undergraduate and graduate business programs, as having the greatest benefit to society in the long run.”

A pledge Tucker made to himself nearly 35 years ago, after Mike Toomey signed him to a scholarship, also informs his giving.

“I said to myself ‘George Washington University is going to give a short, left-handed center fielder from Montgomery County a chance to play Division 1 baseball,’” Tucker recalled. “I’m going to make it worth their while.” GW