My career benefited in the early years by having great quantitative skills in an era when they were almost nonexistent on Wall Street. I made my biggest run up the organization chart in the areas of trading and treasury. The background I got at MIT was key to that,” says Don Layton, who worked 34 years in the financial services industry and is now chairman and CEO of E*TRADE Financial.

“I had an absolutely great experience as an undergrad, and I wanted to give back to the institution that helped me,” adds Layton, who has given a major gift to the Donald H. Layton UROP Fund to support MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) in the department of economics. UROP is an opportunity for students to conduct research with faculty partners.

Layton earned simultaneous bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from MIT in 1972. Two years later, he earned an MBA from Harvard. In 1975, he began his career at Manufacturers Hanover Trust, then the fourth-largest bank in the U.S., which later merged with Chemical Bank, then Chase Manhattan, and finally JP Morgan. Layton, who spent 29 years at the company, rose to vice chairman and ultimately became responsible for running approximately half the firm, which generated more than $18B in revenue and had more than 60,000 employees. He retired in 2004. Last year, he emerged from semi-retirement and now leads E*TRADE.

During Layton’s semi-retirement years, he was involved in a variety of for-profit and non-profit activities. He says those years also gave him a chance to reflect.

“While I was working, I worked very hard. Semi-retiring gave me a chance to become a little more philosophical and think about giving back and helping others. Giving back absolutely makes me feel good.”

Semi-retirement, he says, also gave him a chance to indulge in his favorite pastime, reading history books, and to develop a new pastime, playing golf. It, too, gave him a chance to travel more broadly with his wife and two sons. The family vacationed in Alaska, Australia, and the Galapagos, where they went scuba diving, snorkeling, white water rafting, and swimming with sharks.

Sandra Lazo, Layton’s wife, earned an MIT degree in economics in 1974. They were married in the MIT Chapel the day after her graduation. Their older son, Todd, will enter MIT this fall.

Layton, who is a longstanding member of the MIT Economics Visiting Committee and was co-chair of the recent Economics Leadership Campaign, says he made the gift to MIT because “UROP is a better experience for undergraduates than simply taking courses. I was aiming at having the kids not only get a good education, but an interesting one.”