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Eli Broad’s Pursuit of “Unreasonable” Philanthropy

As the only entrepreneur to create two Fortune 500 companies, Eli Broad is not accustomed to being limited by what others deem reasonable. In fact, the paperweight that has been a fixture on his desk for several decades contains his guiding principle and the inspiration for his book, The Art of Being Unreasonable: “…all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Being unreasonable deviating from conventional approaches and shooting for overly ambitious goals was the hallmark of his leadership at home-building company, KB Homes, and retirement savings company, SunAmerica. This philosophy has also been fundamental to his philanthropy, where he feels his role “is to do things that government can’t do, or is unwilling to do.”

That charge, among other motivations, has led him to focus on art, K-12 education, and medical research in his philanthropy. In art, Broad has bucked the trend of donating one’s collection to a single museum by creating the Broad Collection, a massive “lending library of contemporary art.” In K-12 education, Broad recognized that, traditionally, school superintendents were promoted up through the teaching ranks without any management training. So, he created The Broad Superintendents Academy to bring professional management training to rising school administrators. In medical research, Broad is also blazing a new trail by bringing Harvard and MIT together in an unprecedented partnership to form the Broad Institute, a cross-disciplinary medical center focused on tackling problems facing human biology and disease.

Uniting these diverse efforts are big investments with big risks set on achieving big results for society. For Broad, this is not being unreasonable; instead, he advises, “you’ve got to take risks if you want to change things.”

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