The story is public knowledge: Michigan accountant (youngest CPA in Michigan history, of course) whose multi-billon-dollar fortune started with housing (as in, the Broad in Kaufman & Broad) and then in insurance (SunAmerica). Also public knowledge is that Eli is all about giving away money with Edye, his wife of 54 years, through two foun-dations that have $2.1 billion in assets.
Donating is Elis main occupationa passion, actually, maybe even a compulsion. But he gives money the same way he makes it: carefully, thoughtfully and with a focus on effecting change throughout the worlds of science, art, medicine and education. Near and dear to his and Edyes hearts are funding charter schools, improving compensation plans for teachers and bolstering the frontlines of stem-cell research. Put simply, they want to better peoples lives.
What the public may not know, because he rather revels in his image of being a curmudgeon, is that there is another Eli. Just under the surface is the most loyal friend and the kindest boss, a man so passionate about impacting lives every single day of his life that even while traveling he is signing checksoften on the spur of the momentto send to those he has read about who really need them. Everywhere he goes, he is in touch with movers and shakers (there is no one Eli cant get on the phonein the span of five minutes, he is catching up with Michael Bloomberg, Lawrence Summers and Arnold Schwarzenegger), while basking in the life he has made.
Maybe not as well known is David Bohnett, but thats not because he isnt a force. Dont let the unassuming demeanor fool you. He has an unwavering determination to right wrongs, a very big heart and a fierce intelligence. Bohnett did, after all, cofound geocities.comin 1994, very early in the Web gamea pioneer in social networking, e-commerce and user-generated content. Geocities, whose IPO on the Nasdaq happened in August 1998, was bought by Yahoo! for $3.6 billion in 1999.
Bohnett took that fortune and became one seriously committed philanthropist. Today, he heads the Beverly Hills-based Baroda Ventures LLC (with investments in stamps.com, wireimage.com and netzero.net), is CEO of ovguide.com (an online video guide), chairman of the board of the L.A. Philharmonic and a trustee of both amfAR and LACMA. He donated $2 million to the No on 8 campaign and remains a champion of next-generation leadership at Harvards Kennedy School of Government.
His humanitarian goals mirror his Internet pursuits. He invests where he can actually improve lives, empower individuals and build viable communities in meaningful ways. He lives with his partner, Tom Gregory, in an architectural masterpiece filled with contemporary art, one-of-a-kind design masterpieces and Toms mind-boggling collection of autographed photographs of Hollywood legends.
Broad and Bohnett, who have known each other for five years, sat down in Elis conference room, where the two avid contemporary-art collectors smiled at 25 Chuck Close etchings and prepared for a meeting of the minds on everything from school rivalries to personal convictions.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
David Bohnett: We went to rival schools. I went to the University of Michigan [for an MBA in finance], you went to Michigan State. Eli Broad: I wasnt smart enough to get into the University of Michigan.
DB: [Laughs.] I dont remember reading that about you.
EB: I think the public may see me differently from what I am. People dont know Ive got a deep social conscience. Im a child of the Depression, born in 1933. My parents were very liberal in their social views.
DB: I suppose they also dont see your sense of humor.
EB: Well, they see me as very serious, very determined, with a take-no-prisoners attitude and so on. I am determined. The only thing they dont know about mesome do, some dontis Ive had the uncanny fortune to get to work with great people, whether at KB Home, SunAmerica or at our foundations.
DB: What else?
EB: They dont know how self-critical I am with whatever I do. Im very demanding of myself. Someone once said, Youre a sore winner. Even if we accomplish something, I say, Okay, weve done thatnow where do we go? I started as a young CPA earning $6,740 a year, then we began our home-building company with nothing, and it went publicone of the few. And every step of the way, when someone says, Look at what youve done, I say, So what! Were here now, but where are we going? I think Ive had the ability to really get people to do more than they ever thought of doing. And you?
DB: I think people just know me. Im very passionate about Los Angeles. Im a social-justice kind of guy, and I look for ways for people to feel connected to whats going on. I get a huge kick out of seeing people come to a concert or a museum. I came out here to go to USC. I had never seen the schoolI was 18, I had two suitcases, and I got on a plane from Chicago and arrived not knowing anybody. I used to go to concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, sitting way back on the benches because thats all I could afford. And now, to have a leadership role in the L.A. Phil is such a privilege. I take it as a huge responsibility and hope I can find ways for others to have similar opportunities to connect with our community.
DB: I thinkand tell me if Im rightthat you dont read the newspaper for the business section. You read it to see who needs help.