Eli Broad: A Conversation With the L.A. Billionaire Philanthropist About His Critics and His Legacy
Eli Broad, the $6 billion man
PHOTO BY DAVID X PRUTTING/BFANYC/SIPA USA/NEWSCOM
the Museum of Contemporary Art shocked the art world last month by
firing highly respected curator Paul Schimmel after 22 years on the job,
Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist and MOCA board member,
personally gave Schimmel the bad news. Broad, who founded two Fortune
500 companies before moving into philanthropy and art collecting, was a
natural choice for such a messy job: He swears he's too busy to care
whether people love him or hate him.
But the $6 billion man admits
he would like some respect for his efforts to make Los Angeles -- and
the world -- a better place. He lays out his case for that respect in his
new book, The Art of Being Unreasonable. It's a mash-up: part
autobiography, part how-to business guide, part apologia for what his
legion of critics charge is his heavy-handed, micromanaging style of
venture philanthropy in the fields of art, medical research and
He's also known as the king of Monuments to Me:
He has made sure the Broad (pronounced like road) name is on at least 10
buildings nationwide. His ultimate self-monument is the museum, due to
open in 2014, that will house his personal art collection. It is known
simply as "the Broad." Broad, 79, has been married to his beloved wife,
Edythe, for 59 years. Together, they have given more than half a billion
dollars to L.A. institutions.
L.A. WEEKLY: Edye didn't want you to write the book. Does she still feel the same?
ELI BROAD: Edye is a very private person. But she's fine with it now.
Why do you have so many critics?
think I'm abrupt and too determined. But I don't have time for idle
chitchat while trying to get all this stuff done. And some people simply
don't like my style.
Do you resent all the criticism?
goes with the territory. If people want to criticize me because it
sells papers, that's fine. I just don't like it when it's inaccurate.
Is this book an attempt to rebut the notion you are abrasive and controlling?
hope it helps people understand why I am what I am. I don't like to
spend time in endless meetings talking about stuff that isn't going to
get anything done. I have meetings but they're short, prompt and to the
Why do you put your name on so many buildings?
proud of what we're doing. I want my name associated with stem cell
research, with the arts and education reform. And I hope that others who
have accumulated great wealth will emulate what I'm doing.
Are you interested in buying the L.A. Times when it comes out of bankruptcy?
If others are interested, I would join the effort, but I don't want to do it alone.
Why have you made no Hollywood film investments?
I don't want to be in the film business. I'm not even sure it's a business.
You say Occupy Wall Street is right. About what?
you look at the last 30 years, what's happened to our middle class --
which made our country great -- is they've gone backwards. The only way
to remedy that is to dramatically change K-12 education so we end up
with a workforce for the 21st century.
You've had four careers -- accounting, home building, retirement savings and philanthropy. Which is your favorite?
It was great building two Fortune 500 companies and creating all those
jobs, but in philanthropy we're making the biggest difference in
education reform, scientific and medical research, and getting the
public more engaged in the arts.
Critics say you're a micromanager who hires experts but then fails to get out of the way. True?
don't think that's true! I hire experts and listen to them, but that
doesn't mean I accept carte blanche everything an expert says. I've seen
all too many buildings by great architects built and they don't serve
the purpose they were built for because they never had a strong client.
For great architecture, you need a great architect and a strong,
determined client to make certain the building ends up serving the
purpose for which it's designed.
What's the difference between charity and philanthropy?
is just writing checks and not being engaged. Philanthropy, to me, is
being engaged, not only with your resources but getting people and
yourself really involved and doing things that haven't been done before.
Do you accept the criticism that you're a "venture philanthropist," someone who demands results for their investment?
I believe in venture philanthropy. We don't just do things that people
come to us with requests for. There are things we believe ought to
happen and we help make them happen.
How did you conquer your childhood dyslexia?
I grew out of it. It just faded away. I'm still a slow reader, but I absorb everything I read.
What four newspapers do you read every morning?
In this order: L.A. Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. I no longer get business magazines. I now get Education Week and Scientific American.
So L.A. Weekly is not part of your routine?
It is not. I admit that I get it on occasion.
You're a lifelong Democrat, but not nearly as far left liberal as your father. Why?
father grew up in the Depression, when it was the big bad bosses versus
the poor working people. I'm still liberal nationally but not as
liberal as those in the California Assembly or Senate.
What's the origin of your restlessness and impatience?
come from a lower-middle-class family and always wanted to do something
in the world. I'm an only child, so I felt the need to accomplish
Regarding the Grand Avenue project, you write
that one county supervisor was making a big show of hardheaded
stewardship. Was that Mike Antonovich?
You're a good guesser.
The Grand Avenue project is currently stalled because of the recession. What are its prospects?
I think it will happen. It's just a question of when.
Gehry has been quoted as saying, "Eli is a control freak. I told him I
didn't like him. He says you'll learn to like me. " Did Gehry ever learn
to like you?
We have dinner every month or so. In fact, I might see him this evening.
What's the overall message of your book?
accept conventional wisdom, take risks, ask why not, do a lot of
research, get great people around you that are not yes people, and move
It's that simple?
It's that simple.
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