Entrepreneur Eli Broad, who gave millions to Michigan State, dies at 87

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Philanthropist and entrepreneur Eli Broad, who contributed millions of dollars to Michigan State University, died Friday at age 87, representatives announced.

Eli Broad

Since 1999, Broad, who founded two Fortune 500 companies in different industries, and his wife, Edythe, had committed more than $5 billion with their foundations to support K-12 public education, scientific and medical research, and the visual and performing arts. 

In 2014, Broad and his wife gave MSU a $25 million challenge grant to broaden the scope of the Eli Broad College of Business.

The gift brought the Detroit Public Schools alumni's total giving to MSU to nearly $100 million.

"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.

In 2019, Broad, co-founder of homebuilder Kaufman & Broad, was listed on Forbes' annual list of the richest people on the planet at No. 233 with $6.7 billion, tying him with Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert.

Broad was born in New York, but moved to Detroit when he was 6.

The son of Lithuanian immigrants graduated from Detroit Central High School.

He attended Michigan State University, where he earned a degree in accounting.

In 1957, he started KB Homes with $25,000 borrowed from his in-laws. He later bought Sun Life Insurance, grew it into annuities giant SunAmerica and sold it to AIG Life Holdings Inc. for $18 billion in stock.

Broad lived in Los Angeles with his wife, starting philanthropic foundations with billions in assets.

Some of Broad's largest impact has been at MSU, where in 1991 he made what was then considered the largest gift commitment ever made to a public business school: $20 million.

The school's Eli Broad College of Business and the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management were both renamed in his honor.

The couple aided in the development of urban school teachers with a 2003 gift that established a partnership between MSU and Detroit Public Schools.

More recently, the Broads' commitment to MSU led to the building of a renowned art museum on campus.

The Zaha Hadid-designed Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum opened in 2012. The Broads provided a lead gift of $28 million for the 46,000-square-foot space that the university said "serves as both a teaching institution and a cultural hub for East Lansing and the region."

An expansion, the MSU Broad Art Lab, opened across the street in 2018.

“Eli was a selfless, kindhearted man who dedicated much of his life to making the lives of others better. From the classroom to the board room, altruism was the backbone of his mission, and Eli embodied what it means to be a Spartan," MSU President Samuel Stanley said in a statement Friday night.

“His impact on Michigan State University and Spartans everywhere will be felt for decades to come. We are forever grateful for his service, generosity and his passion for his alma mater.”

MSU planned to leverage the Broads' $25 million gift in 2014 to raise another $80 million through matching gifts from other donors, for a total investment of $105 million, to expand the Broad MBA and graduate programs.

FILE - Eli Broad and his wife Edythe Broad, center, meet with then-Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon during a tour of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum on the MSU campus in East Lansing in November 2012.

"We are pleased to deepen our support of MSU's business college and, by offering a challenge grant," Eli Broad said at the time, "we hope others will step up and recognize the opportunity to educate the next generation of business leaders at a world-class university."

"Eli and Edythe Broad's commitment to Michigan State University is extraordinary and will have a lasting impact," then-MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said then. "This latest gift entrusts us with significant resources to build and grow the quality and reputation of the Eli Broad College of Business, which will help ensure our students and faculty have the tools to make a difference in business and society."

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Broads focused on contemporary art and world-class architecture, giving nearly $1 billion to Los Angeles arts and culture institutions, representatives said.

"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," his foundation said Friday.

Broad and other arts patrons helped create and fund the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1979. As the founding chairman of MOCA until 1984, Broad played a critical role in establishing the museum. 

After nearly 50 years building a significant art collection, Broad announced in August 2010 that he and his wife would found a new contemporary art museum.

The Broad museum opened on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles in 2015. It houses approximately 2,000 works and attracted more than 900,000 visitors in 2019, officials said.

He also created the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, helped bring the Democratic National Convention to Los Angeles in 2000 and unsuccessfully sought to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Times.

In 2003, Broad established three stem cell research centers with donations totaling more than $100 million at the University of California Los Angeles, UC San Francisco and the University of Southern California.

His foundation also invested more than $600 million in improving public education and created the Broad Prize for Urban Education, which in 13 years has awarded $16 million in scholarships to more than 1,200 students, officials said.

In early 2017, Broad waded into a national political debate, publicly urging the Senate to reject President Donald Trump's nomination of Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos as education secretary, saying he had “serious concerns” about her support for “unregulated” charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schooling.

“Indeed, with Betsy DeVos at the helm of the U.S. Department of Education, much of the good work that has been accomplished to improve public education for all of America's children could be undone,” Broad wrote in a letter to Senate leadership in February 2017. “In short, I believe she is unprepared and unqualified for the position.”

Broad’s letter drew attention because, like DeVos, he supported charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools. Despite Broad's opposition, DeVos was confirmed and served for almost all of Trump's four years as president.

Broad also authored a book, “The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking,” which was published in 2012 and became a New York Times bestseller. 

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

Details on services are forthcoming, his foundation said Friday night.