Donald Bren: Southern California’s richest man in his own words


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In a series of recent conversations with The Times’ Scott Kraft, Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren talked about his company and his life.

Some excerpts:

On federal government steps to stimulate the economy, including the recent Federal Reserve plan known as QE2 to purchase another $600 billion in Treasury bonds through midyear (the plan has been dubbed QE2 because it is the second round of what the Fed calls ‘quantitative easing’):


“I think the administration and the Federal Reserve did the right thing. They made decisions regarding taxes and the QE2 which I agree with. Not everybody does, but I agree with that decision temporarily for America. And it’s reduced the uncertainty that had permeated America.”

On the U.S. economic outlook:

“We’re coming into a positive period. We’re looking at somewhere between 3.75% and 4% GDP growth. That’s the way we’re forecasting this next calendar year.”

On Gov. Jerry Brown:

“I didn’t support Jerry Brown’s candidacy but I will support him now as governor. He has the challenge of dealing with the deficit, and he’s had two terms and believes he’s the right person. His leadership is going to be very important.”

On the California state deficit:

“What we’re looking at is a major financial restructuring of the state of California. Out of that, we will probably see some tax increases in a number of different areas to close the budget gap. [I anticipate] half cuts, half taxes. I think the new governor understands what his priorities are and he’s going about it the right way so far.” On the influence of his father, Milton Bren, a Hollywood producer and real estate investor:

“What I learned from him was that when you hold property over the long term, you’re able to create better values and you have something tangible to show for it.”

On the influence of his stepmother, Claire Trevor, who was an Oscar-winning actress:

“All forms of art were interesting to her. She was a painter and I still have some of her paintings and she gave many of them to the university [UC Irvine]. Through her, as a young person, I learned art appreciation. That was really the start of my interest in art. I took a course in art appreciation in college and I didn’t learn as much as she taught me.”


On his interest in the New York School of abstract expressionism:

“I’ve been fascinated with that period of art, which went from 1944 to 1984, and the contemporary period after that doesn’t hold a candle to that period. I learned about it, like I did about architecture, in the practical way, by reading at night, meeting with the artists, the museums, the experts. I had many friends who were art dealers and art collectors, so that was fascinating to me.”

On art collecting:

“I collect a few things. I have a number of paintings from that period. What I’ve found, though, is that you simply can’t collect everything. The most important part is having the knowledge and the appreciation and the ability to see in this broader form.”

On keeping a low public profile:

“I’m not a public official. I’m a businessman, I’m a builder, I’m a planner... This company is so much a part of this county -- I mean, it was here before the county was here –- that, in some respects, we’re in a fishbowl. So I need to monitor and focus my time in a way that is productive for the company and for me. And if I feel that I’ve done the job well, that’s the satisfaction I get, not from doing interviews or being more public.”

On the future:

“I’d like to be involved, given the fact that I’m curious and energetic and forward-thinking. I really don’t think in the past. I sit down with many friends at dinner, and they like to talk about the good old days. I’m respectful of the good old days, but I find myself spending very little time reminiscing. I’m really looking forward.”

On how long he’ll remain involved in daily operations at the Irvine Co.:

“I would like to be involved as long as I’m physically and intellectually capable. Hopefully, I have another few good years to be involved, and I look forward to that. And that will occupy a good deal of my time.”

On areas he’s exploring for possible future philanthropic gifts:

“I’m looking at solar energy. It’s my view that solar energy may be the ultimate solution for energy for most of the world. I believe, based on what little I know about it, that there is a possibility of a breakthrough. I’m on the board at Caltech, and I have a formula I’m going to propose to several Caltech scientists. I think they ought to be able to find a way to harness the power of the sun.”


Want more? Read Scott Kraft’s profile of Donald Bren.