Eli Broad, Philanthropist, Entrepreneur, Founder of KB Home and SunAmerica, Dies at Age 87

LOS ANGELES—Philanthropist and entrepreneur Eli Broad, the only person to found two Fortune 500 companies in different industries died on April 30, 2021 at the age of 87, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation announced today.

Since 1999, Broad and his wife Edye served as full-time philanthropists, committing more than $4 billion to support K-12 public education, scientific and medical research, and the visual and performing arts. While his philanthropy supported scientists, museums and public schools across the country, Broad is best known for establishing new institutions, including The Broad, a contemporary art museum in downtown Los Angeles that is home to Eli and Edye Broad’s 2,000-plus-work art collection, The Broad Center at Yale School of Management, a professional development program for public school system leaders, and the Broad Institute, a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary genomic medicine research center created in partnership with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“As a businessman Eli saw around corners, as a philanthropist he saw the problems in the world and tried to fix them, as a citizen he saw the possibility in our shared community, and as a husband, father and friend he saw the potential in each of us,” said Gerun Riley, president of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Broad’s business success in two different industries made possible his philanthropy. Broad created two businesses that relied on answering the needs of middle-class Americans, particularly baby boomers, the largest generation of Americans in history. Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation, which Broad founded in 1957 at age 23 in Detroit, helped families move out of apartments and into their first homes by building houses more efficiently and passing savings on to buyers. Kaufman and Broad, headquartered in Los Angeles since 1963, expanded across the country and to Europe, eventually building more than half a million homes to date. Two decades later, Broad bought a life insurance company for $52 million and transformed it into SunAmerica, which helped boomers—the longest-living generation to that point—save for their retirements. The company offered secure retirements to millions of customers. It was the fastest growing company on the New York Stock Exchange throughout the 1990s before Broad sold SunAmerica to AIG for $18 billion in 1999.

Broad was born on June 6, 1933 in the Bronx, New York, the only child of Leon and Rebecca Broad, both immigrants from Lithuania. He attended public schools in New York and, after the age of six, in Detroit, where he moved with his parents. School was a struggle for Broad because of his undiagnosed dyslexia, but entrepreneurialism came easily. He founded his first business at age 13, earning several hundred dollars from dealing postage stamps.

A first-generation college student who paid his way through school, Broad attended Michigan State University. Initially a pre-law major, Broad switched to study accounting, eventually becoming Michigan’s youngest certified public accountant, a title he held from 1954 until 2015. While in college, Broad met Edye Lawson, whose phone number he received from a friend. Within months, the two were engaged. They married in 1954 and welcomed two sons, Jeffrey and Gary, in 1956 and 1959 respectively.

In 1963, the Broads moved to Los Angeles, which became their adopted hometown. It was there that they first established a family foundation, and where they first became interested in collecting art, inspired by Edye’s lifelong passion for art as well as her exploration of Los Angeles’ growing constellation of galleries. One of their most significant early acquisitions was a Vincent van Gogh drawing acquired in 1972. By the 1980s, however, they had become immersed in contemporary art, believing that by collecting the art of our time they could create a meaningful art collection and enjoy the innovations and thinking of living artists.

Since moving to Los Angeles, the Broads have worked to make contemporary art and world-class architecture an essential part of life in Los Angeles for residents and visitors, giving nearly $1 billion to Los Angeles arts and culture institutions. As the co-founder of The Broad, founding chairman and life trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), a major donor to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (where his $60 million gift helped create the Broad Contemporary Art Museum in 2008), the LA Opera and The Broad Stage, Broad had unmatched influence and impact on the arts in Los Angeles, enriching public life and establishing Los Angeles as a global arts capital.

Broad, along with other arts patrons in Los Angeles, helped create and fund the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in 1979. As the founding chairman of MOCA until 1984, Broad played a critical role in establishing the museum. Broad negotiated the purchase of 80 abstract expressionist and pop works from Italian businessman and collector Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, who was known for being the first European collector of postwar American art and for amassing one of the world’s largest and premiere collections of postwar American art. The 80 works were purchased for $11 million, which formed the core of MOCA’s renowned permanent collection and gave the museum “instant credibility,” according to The New York Times. When Panza died in 2010, Broad told The New York Times, “Having his collection helped us get other works of great quality that we otherwise may not have gotten. I think because of his collection, we were not viewed as another provincial museum but a world-class institution.”

Broad was also a supporter of the LA Opera (also located on Grand Avenue) with Edye, whose love of opera brought her to downtown Los Angeles for performances, funding a new, critically acclaimed production of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle in 2009-2010 providing operating support for the company, and endowing the director’s chair. Broad also supported the creation of the Grand Avenue Visual and Performing Arts High School.

After spending nearly 50 years building one of the world’s most significant collections of postwar and contemporary art, Broad—deeply dedicated to bringing contemporary art to the widest possible audience—announced in August 2010 that the couple would found a new contemporary art museum. In 2015, The Broad museum opened on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, revitalizing and driving the area’s transformation into the cultural center that Broad had envisioned for decades. Millions of visitors now come from across the region and around the world to enjoy the rich and lively arts and culture scene along Grand Avenue.

Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, The Broad houses approximately 2,000 works by artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mark Bradford, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, Yayoi Kusama, Kerry James Marshall, Takashi Murakami and Cindy Sherman. General admission to The Broad is free, and the museum presents a dynamic schedule of exhibitions and public programs. Broad had anticipated that the museum would attract 250,000 people a year, but the museum, in fact, has defied expectations, welcoming more than 900,000 visitors in 2019 alone—three times what Broad expected. Since the museum’s opening, The Broad consistently attracts a strikingly young and diverse audience that reflects the demographics of the L.A. region: approximately 70 percent of The Broad’s visitors identify as non-white, and 66 percent are 35 and under.

Broad’s work on behalf of Los Angeles was not confined to Grand Avenue. He created the Renzo Piano-designed Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, he helped bring the Democratic National Convention to Los Angeles in 2000 and made unsuccessful attempts to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Times. Over time, he and his Foundation committed nearly $1 billion to catalyze and support the visual and performing arts in Los Angeles.

The Broads’ philanthropy extended beyond Los Angeles as well. In 2003, after California voters passed a bond measure supporting stem cell research, Broad established three stem cell research centers, with donations totaling more than $100 million, at UCLA, UC San Francisco and the University of Southern California. Broad donated more than $50 million to his alma mater, Michigan State, to establish college and graduate schools of business and to create a contemporary art museum designed by Zaha Hadid.

The Foundation’s largest gift established the Broad Institute, founded by Eric Lander, to which they have given a total of $1.1 billion. The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was founded in 2003 to empower this generation of creative scientists to transform medicine with new genome-based knowledge. The Broad Institute seeks to describe the molecular components of life and their connections; discover the molecular basis of major human diseases; develop effective new approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics; and disseminate discoveries, tools, methods and data openly to the entire scientific community. The Broad Institute includes faculty, professional staff and students from throughout the MIT and Harvard biomedical research communities and beyond, with collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide.

Though he built and ran two Fortune 500 companies for several decades, Broad often shared that his work as a philanthropist was more challenging than his work as a businessman; his relentless and tireless energy transformed not only the arts in L.A. but the way scientists approach biomedical research, the way school districts trained and valued leaders to improve public education.

Overall, the Foundation invested more than $600 million in improving public education. Since 1999, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation sought ways to support the best public schools. Over the next two decades, tens of millions of dollars went to helping improve urban public school systems—including Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Chicago, Denver, Oakland, Long Beach and Detroit—by changing central office practices to better support principals, teachers and students, creating more high-quality public school options via charter management organizations, raising teacher compensation and innovating with classroom technology. The Foundation created The Broad Prize for Urban Education to spotlight the urban school districts that showed the greatest academic performance and improvement while reducing achievement gaps among low-income students and students of color. In its 13 years, the prize awarded $16 million in scholarships to more than 1,200 students.

Broad’s education philanthropy spanned the country: he seeded the endowment of Teach For America and supported several big-city school districts as they worked to better serve students of color and low-income students. He created the first of its kind prize for school districts that had the best performance and most improvement in academic outcomes for underserved students, and he established The Broad Center, a leadership development program that has worked with more than 1,000 school system leaders and managers nationwide.

In December of 2019, The Foundation made a $100 million commitment to Yale University to establish The Broad Center at the Yale School of Management, which will continue to offer a tuition-free master’s degree to public school system leaders and an advanced management training program for public school district superintendents. Eli learned through his 20 years of investing in public education that schools alone can’t solve for the inequities, indignities, and challenges facing students from marginalized communities: Having The Broad Center housed at Yale SOM means all of its programs will be enhanced with input from Yale University’s leading thinkers in management, public health, law, child development, policy, criminal justice and economic development.

In 2020, though he was retired from The Foundation, Eli still had that urge to keep going, to help people, and do more. At age 87, he was alarmed by the climate crisis and the perilous state of America’s democracy. Leading up to the November 2020 election, Eli and Edye doubled down on their political contributions giving to Presidential, Senate and House candidates with strong records on climate change, supporting organizations that worked to mobilize, educate and protect voter rights; and seeding a national education and awareness campaigns that elevated the issue of climate change. He also publicly voiced his support for a wealth tax.

In one of his final public acts, Eli wrote an op-ed published in The New York Times, writing:

“Two decades ago I turned full-time to philanthropy and threw myself into supporting public education, scientific and medical research, and visual and performing arts, believing it was my responsibility to give back some of what had so generously been given to me. But I’ve come to realize that no amount of philanthropic commitment will compensate for the deep inequities preventing most Americans — the factory workers and farmers, entrepreneurs and electricians, teachers, nurses and small-business owners — from the basic prosperity we call the American dream…Our country must do something bigger and more radical, starting with the most unfair area of federal policy: our tax code… The enormous challenges we face as a nation — the climate crisis, the shrinking middle class, skyrocketing housing and health care costs, and many more — are a stark call to action. The old ways aren’t working, and we can’t waste any more time tinkering around the edges.”

Broad is survived by his wife Edye and his two sons, Jeffrey and Gary.

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