A $5 million gift from an East Carolina University College of Business alum makes him the largest cumulative donor to the college.

The donation announced Tuesday from Greenville native Tom Arthur will strengthen graduate-level education in the college and support student veterans and military personnel in the program, the university said.

Arthur, a financial planner, investor and business manager who received his master of business administration from ECU in 1971, served in the Army during the Vietnam War.

“ECU has been very friendly to veterans. I wanted to make sure the College of Business would be military-friendly,” Arthur said. “I met so many bright and talented people during my time in the Army who either did not have a chance to or simply did not desire to go to college. You learn a great deal about leadership in the military — the good and the bad.

“The best practices in combat are the same in business, sports or otherwise,” he said. “If you are the quarterback, when you take that snap you had better know what is happening. You need to have situational awareness and the ability to recognize if plan A is not working, you need a plan B quickly.

“It was important for me to take those bright people with leadership skills and ensure they have a chance at education,” Arthur said. “It works for East Carolina and it works for me. Older students have a chance to be involved with younger students and act as role models.”

A graduate of J.H. Rose High School, Arthur recalled a summer job he had in high school working on an ECU residence hall. At that time, he was unsure of what the future held. The Army and graduate school at ECU were what led him to his success in business, he said.

“As an undergraduate I was not a very serious student,” Arthur said. “I graduated in four years but it was not the most important thing to me at the time, so I joined the Army. That gave me three years to figure things out and grow up. When I got back to Greenville where my mother and stepfather were living, I made a call to Dean Jim Bearden at the College of Business. When I got there, it was the most important thing.”

Arthur credits Bearden for his admission. The dean also had served in the Army and saw its importance in developing leadership among young people. Arthur seconded that notion, establishing the Thomas D. Arthur Distinguished Professorship in Leadership in 2010 with a $1 million gift.

“Over the years, Tom Arthur’s financial gifts have elevated our faculty and his appearances at our annual Business Leadership Conference have inspired many students,” Paul Schwager, dean of the business college, said in the announcement. “With this new gift, his legacy will be imprinted on the many lives that turn to the College of Business to grow their personal career path.”

For Arthur, graduate school was his time to lock in and get serious about his future. It was also a chance to develop skills that he might have missed as an economics major at UNC Chapel Hill, he said.

“I had studied economics because that major did not have to take accounting,” Arthur said. “When I was studying it at East Carolina, I found out that I loved it. It just clicked for me. Those finance and accounting subjects were so important in my business career, learning how to properly understand business statements and cash flow modeling.”

Arthur now spends his professional time in private investing through his family’s financial firm, ASAP Capital Partners. He also serves as an emeritus board member of the BB&T Center for Leadership Development at ECU and on the board of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Arthur formerly served as vice president of a Florida-based investment banking firm. He was responsible for growing Tampa, Florida-based Havatampa Corp. into the second-largest cigar manufacturing company in the United States after buying out that part of the corporation.

Chancellor Philip Rogers said he is grateful for Arthur’s belief in the university.

“The remarkable generosity from Tom Arthur will allow the College of Business to expand and enhance its education of students and bolster its reputation for producing successful business leaders. It’s wonderful to have donors who believe and invest in ECU’s future in such a considerable way,” Rogers said.

To Arthur, it is important to give ECU a chance to further shape eastern North Carolina.

“It is such an incredible school,” Arthur said. “You look at Greenville, and then you look at some of the other towns in the region who have been the same for 50 or 60 years. Greenville is proof of the impact that university has had. The little bit I can do to help is a feel good thing for me since ECU means so much to Greenville and so much to eastern North Carolina.”

Contact Pat Gruner at pgruner@reflector.com and (252)-329-9566.