Eli Broad: A Conversation With the L.A. Billionaire Philanthropist About His Critics and His Legacy
|PHOTO BY DAVID X PRUTTING/BFANYC/SIPA USA/NEWSCOM|
|Eli Broad, the $6 billion man|
When 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 education reform.
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?
People 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?
It 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?
I 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 point.
Why do you put your name on so many buildings?
I'm 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?
If 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?
Philanthropy. 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?
I 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?
Charity 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?
Yes. 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?
My 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?
I 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 things.
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.
Frank 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?
Don't 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 on.
It's that simple?
It's that simple.