Philanthropist and art collector Eli Broad, who parleyed his business success into years of charitable work that impacted education and the arts throughout California, died Friday at age 87.
Broad died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles following a long illness, according to Suzi Emmerling, spokeswoman for the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
A New York native, Broad took a loan from his in-laws and constructed a homebuilding empire with partner Donald Kaufman. That company, Kaufman and Broad Home Corp., grew into what is now known as KB Home.
In the 1970s, he acquired Sun Life Insurance Company for $52 million. The company, which eventually became known as SunAmerica, was sold to American International Insurance Group in 1998 for $17.8 billion.
Broad was the first person to develop two Fortune 500 companies in different industries. Forbes estimated Broad’s net worth at $6.7 billion two years ago.
Selling SunAmerica allowed Broad to focus on philanthropy. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation was founded in 1999, with an endowment that eventually topped $2 billion.
Over the years, the foundation invested more than $600 million in public education in San Diego, throughout Southern California, and in other cities including Boston, New York, Chicago, Denver and Detroit.
For instance, over the course of a decade, the foundation helped shape the development of high school principals at large school districts, including those in San Diego, Long Beach and six other cities. He also supported charter school enterprises.
Broad told Forbes nearly 20 years ago that the answer for public education can be found by installing more talented managers at the district level. “These are huge enterprises,” he said at the time of city school districts. “You don’t start at the bottom. You start at the top.”
The Broad Prize for Urban Education continues to honor school districts for academic performance, and has provided $16 million in scholarships to more than 1,200 students.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a Twitter post, called him, “L.A.’s most influential private citizen of his generation.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said “Eli’s generosity is responsible for research programs, schools, museums and other efforts designed to make Los Angeles and California a better place to live.
“He called himself `A builder,'” she added, “and that’s the legacy Eli leaves behind.”
Broad was also dedicated to scientific and medical research, as well as the arts, supporting scientists and museums across the country. An avid collector, The Broad, as the museum in downtown Los Angeles is called, houses a collection of more than 2,000 artworks.
His name also adorns The Broad Center at Yale School of Management, a development program for public school system leaders, and the Broad Institute, a genomic medical research center founded with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
With more than $100 million in donations, he established stem cell research centers at UCLA, USC and UC San Francisco. He also donated more than $50 million to his alma mater, Michigan State University, to establish college and graduate schools of business and to create a contemporary art museum.
He was also a founding chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art and a major benefactor of Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, the LA Opera and The Broad Stage.
He was also active in civic affairs, pouring money into political campaigns, with a particular eye on climate change, voter rights and a wealth tax. He even showed interest in the media, pursuing a purchase of The Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2015.
Broad wrote: “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.”
In the piece, he went on to call for the country to “do something bigger and more radical, starting with the most unfair area of federal policy: our tax code.” He also noted that “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,” he declared in the op-ed, “and we can’t waste any more time tinkering around the edges.”
“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 is survived by his wife Edythe, and two sons, Jeffrey and Gary.
Story compiled from staff and wire reports.