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Billionaire Philanthropist Eli Broad Has Died. He Was 87

Eli Broad and his wife Edythe stand with their arms around each other at a 2017 dinner in New York.
Eli Broad and Edythe Broad attend the Getty Medal Dinner 2017 at The Morgan Library & Museum on November 13, 2017 in New York.
(Dia Dipasupil
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Getty Images)
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Eli Broad — who played an outsized role in L.A.'s philanthropic community — has died at the age of 87.

His death was confirmed by a spokesperson for the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, who said it followed a long illness.

In a statement issued to news media, the foundation's president, Gerun Riley, said:

“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."
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Broad, who was a billionaire many times over, built his wealth in the construction and insurance industries. He retired from public work in October 2017, saying he would step back from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, a major philanthropic contributor and influencer in L.A.

At the time, foundation spokeswoman Swati Pandey said:

"[Broad] has worked very long days for his entire six-decade career, whether in business or in philanthropy, and I think he's decided it's finally time to step back, spend more time with his family."

Broad was born in the Bronx, New York, on June 6, 1933. He was an only child of immigrants from Lithuania. He and his wife moved to L.A. in 1963. In addition to his wife, Broad is survived by their sons, Jeffrey and Gary.

In 2012, he sat down with our newsroom’s public affairs show AirTalk, which airs on 89.3 KPCC, to talk with host Larry Mantle. Broad had just released a memoir of his life titled “The Art Of Being Unreasonable.”

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22:21
Listen: Eli Broad Talks About His Book 'The Art Of Being Unreasonable'

He began his professional life fresh out of Michigan State University as the youngest CPA in Michigan history. Unfulfilled by that line of work, he partnered with his cousin's husband, borrowed money from his father-in-law and started what would become the homebuilding giant Kaufman Broad Homes.

Looking to diversify at the start of the 1970’s housing downturn, Broad went in a completely different direction. He acquired a family-run life insurance company that would later become Sun America, a financial planning powerhouse. Broad built two Fortune 500 companies, essentially from the ground up, and became a billionaire six times over.

He then turned his attention to public service as one of Los Angeles's biggest philanthropists. From public education to contemporary art to biomedical research, Broad invested hundreds of millions of dollars. His wife Edythe has been a huge part of every one of these ventures.

Here are some excerpts from that interview:

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Larry Mantle: Your book prominently features a George Bernard Shaw quote that's engraved on a paperweight your wife Edye gave you years ago. Do you want to quote it or should I read it?

Eli Broad: Why don't you read it? She gave it to me after we'd been married about a year.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.”

That of course, the theme of your book.

Exactly.

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So you've seen this paperweight on your desk for many, many years now, is this something that ...

... about 55 years ...

You've been married almost 60 years, right?

Well, we'll be married 58 years on December 19.

Congratulations. So remarkable. So, I mean clearly you've had a lot of time to think about the unreasonable man idea. Is this something you've applied to yourself?

Even as a child, I'd always ask a lot of questions and so on. And I'd always say why not? When I come up with an idea and people say you can't do it, hasn't been done before, it may be risky. I said, “so tell me why not?” So if I didn't get an answer I'd move forward.

Well to the, to the extent that as a young man you actually changed the pronunciation of your name. You were in high school?

In junior high. Kids were kidding me about the name calling it broad. B. R. O. A. D.

And I said you know what, I think it runs with ROAD. I change it … when I told my parents I was doing it and they just rolled their eyes.

There are other reasons you like the renewed pronunciation of your name. Why else do you like it?

My parents were Lithuanian immigrants, went through Ellis Island, the name was B-R-O-D. Somehow they put an A in there, so I thought I'd get back to the original intent, changing the pronunciation.

Talk about unreasonable — because I think for a lot of us we tend to think of unreasonable and irrational as being very closely related. You draw a distinction. What is that?

You can be artlessly unreasonable and there's an art to being unreasonable and getting things done.

I do draw a distinction. I think being unreasonable in an artful way is a way to accomplish a lot of things and, and changes that need to be done, whether it's in business, philanthropy or otherwise.

Is unreasonable separate and distinct from being difficult?

Broad: Well, some people think I'm difficult and demanding and so on. That's part of being unreasonable. It is part of it. And you know what, at the end of the day, if you have the right idea and you move forward and get something done, people will respect you for it, even though they think you were heavy-handed or they didn't agree with it to begin with.

So results trumps everything?

Broad: Absolutely.

There, of course, is the Broad Contemporary, a part of the L.A. County Museum of Art. We've got two K-12 educational initiatives that Mr. Broad has been involved with across the country and many, many other endeavors, perhaps at the top of the list, at least in terms of its civic symbolism is Walt Disney Concert Hall, looked dead on its feet and Eli Broad came in, revitalized the fundraising effort, with a very different approach than what had historically been done by L. A. Arts institutions. And of course we have Walt Disney Concert Hall now.

… You get to the issue that, you know, forget the conventional wisdom, do your own research and then follow that to make a decision. But that's easier said than done. So, you know, how do you determine which research is the most important and when do you stop? Because, you know, you can go on and on and on with research?

Well, I believe in getting as much information as I can. I read four newspapers every day and always have. I read all the trade magazines and so on, and from doing that kind of research, you get all sorts of ideas. And then of course you do other research, you talk to other people, their so-called experts and so on, and and out of all of that, you come up with ideas and conclusions and what ought to happen.

I don't think you say this explicitly in the book, but one of things struck me as you were able to parlay things you knew to then do research and go into other stuff. So you weren't really starting at ground zero with each one of the projects you took, they appeared to be very different, but there was some kind of an expertise to experience.

Well, for example, I was young CPA in Michigan and got bored after, uh ,two years and we had some clients that were homebuilders making a lot of money. And I said gee, I don't think they're all that bright, maybe I can do that. So we did some research homes in Detroit, all had basements. But in Ohio and Indiana they were building homes without basements. So I said why don't we do that? And everyone said, no I'm not buying a home without a basement. Well we ended up building homes without basements with carports for 50% less. And the first weekend we opened we sold out all 17 homes we had.

So you didn't have to excavate for the basement. The foundations were less expensive and people didn't need to store coal anymore in the basement.

Exactly, and we built the homes a lot faster.

So the other thing you point out, though, is in building Kaufman and Broad cost control was really key. You had every step along the way — what everything cost, land acquisition, you bought, the land just when you needed it, not huge inventories just sat on all of this kind of stuff. This attention to every detail made the difference.

Clearly it did. You know, homebuilding in those days was kind of sloppy. Builders would order a lot of lumber and so on. Some would go wasted and such. And what we did is we came up with a precise list of exactly how many sticks of lumber we needed per house and bought them in packages. And we did a lot of things of that sort. So we became very efficient and reduced costs. And then of course we start a mortgage company to help all the buyers get mortgages.

And then other builders used your mortgage company.

They did indeed.

Listen to the full interview:

22:21
Listen: Eli Broad Talks About His Book 'The Art Of Being Unreasonable'