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Eli Broad : Business Man & Philanthropist Extraordinaire

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/By Clive Minchom/

Eli Broad’s favorite quotation comes from George Bernard Shaw and he displays it prominently on his web site: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man”.

Eli Broad has been known all his life for being completely unreasonable, and it allowed him to build not one, but two, Fortune 500 companies KB Home and SunAmerica and to be the driving force behind civic institutions in Los Angeles such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Broad Institute.
Not surprisingly therefore the title of his own book he wrote about what made him a success in business and in life is “The Art of Being Unreasonable”.
Eli Broad was born in the Bronx in 1933, the only child of Lithuanian Jewish immigrant parents. His father was a house painter, and his mother a dressmaker. His family moved to Detroit when he was six years old. He has been married to his wife Edythe, known as Edye to all her friends, since 1954 – nearly 60 years (!) – when he met her when they were both at Michigan State University, and they have two children.

He bought his first real estate at age 20 and co-founded the home building company Kaufman & Broad in 1957 with US$25, 000 borrowed from his in-laws. It became one of the nation’s biggest house builders, supplying parents of baby boomers with affordable housing. In 1971 he bought a small insurer Sun Life Insurance which he renamed SunAmerica, subsequently built it up, developed it and then sold it to AIG in 1998 for US$18 billion in cash and stock.

Since then, with a net worth today of US$6.3 billion, according to the Forbes billionaires list, he has largely devoted himself to philanthropy, and he has already given away an estimated US$3.5 billion of his wealth to charity, including US$600 million to found the Broad Institute for biomedical research at Harvard and MIT.
A devotee of opera he has also given large grants to the Los Angeles Opera House, and just last month Plácido Domingo, the Director of the Los Angeles Opera, announced that The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has doubled its most recent support of LA Opera, with an additional gift of US$7 million.

The Broads are now among the largest donors in LA Opera history. “I was profoundly moved when Marc surprised me with this news, ” said Mr. Domingo, referring to Los Angeles Opera Board Chairman Marc I. Stern, “especially because of the deep friendship that Eli, Edye and I have developed over the years. The immeasurable impact that they have had on the cultural landscape of Los Angeles makes their ongoing support for LA Opera a priceless affirmation of our importance in the community.”
At the time of the announcement 80 year old Eli Broad said, in a phone interview with the LA Times, “I think the opera is one of the great cultural jewels of Los Angeles”…. “Having Plácido Domingo as Director of the company raises the view that people have of L.A. all over the world. I think the “Ring” cycle and other things they have done have had a profound impact on cultural tourism. We’ve been supporting the opera for a long time and I thought we should continue.”

Eli Broad also supports a bewildering variety of cultural institutions in and around Los Angeles, his adopted home. He treats giving as a business and tackles it with the same intensity, having created no less than four charitable foundations – in the areas of education, scientific and medical research, the arts and, finally, civic initiatives.

His education foundation has created a school to train high school superintendents in order to provide a mechanism for fundamentally improving school performance through better management. His medical institute at Harvard and MIT is well-established, in the arts he has donated heavily to the LA art museums and is now even building two private art museums of his own, one in Los Angeles and one at his alma mater Michigan State University, and with the fourth foundation he has funded the rebuilding of major swathes of downtown Los Angeles.

He and wife, Edythe, created the Broad Art Foundation in 1984; it now owns more than $2.4 billion worth of contemporary art, which it lends to institutions around the world. The couple is also building a permanent home for their collections, called “The Broad”, a new contemporary art museum and worldwide headquarters for their foundation, scheduled to open in Los Angeles in early 2014. “My wife, Edye, and I have been blessed with extraordinary success, ” Broad told business magazine Forbes. “We consider it a privilege to invest our resources in making life better for people by improving public education, advancing scientific and medical research and fostering public appreciation of the arts.” He is also the largest donor to, and sits on the board of, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. He was one of that museum’s earliest donors and made its construction possible.

Broad is a member of the Giving Pledge set up by Bill Gates and, like Warren Buffett, supports higher taxes for the rich.
“Those of us who have gained great success have an obligation to pay more taxes, ”…. “We’ve been coddled long enough and have tax breaks that 99.9% of the public don’t have, and it’s not fair.”

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