I had the pleasure Sunday evening of attending "A Conversation With Eli Broad" at the 92nd Street Y, an hour-long event marking the launch of Broad's memoir The Art of Being Unreasonable. At the event, Broad chatted with broadcast journalist Charlie Rose about his long and successful career (highlights of which are shared in the book's appendix). Broad, who turns 79 this summer, has helped build two Fortune 500 companies, KB Home and SunAmerica, and created with his wife, Edythe, the Broad Foundations, which focus on public education reform, scientific and medical research, art and culture, and civic projects in Los Angeles.
Rose began his interview by asking Broad for thoughts on the state of the economy, which Broad said will not recover until the housing market improves (in 2013?), before shifting gears to focus on the book.
While Broad doesn't consider himself to be unreasonable -- as he told the audience, "I don't think I'm unreasonable; other people think I'm unreasonable" -- he writes in his memoir that he believes "being unreasonable has been the key to my success." Throughout his career, he took chances that many said he was foolish for taking -- building homes without basements at a time when such a thing was unheard of, for example -- and succeeded because he and his partners did their homework and found a "niche where we could flourish."
During the Q&A portion of the event, one of my colleagues asked Broad -- who was instrumental in creating the first biomedical research institute in the world devoted to genomics, launching the largest urban education prize in the country, and has done much to nurture the burgeoning contemporary art scene in Los Angeles -- to share some of the ways in which his foundations assist nonprofit organizations and social causes other than through grants or philanthropic investments. "Foundations have to be innovative," said Broad, especially during tough economic times. The Broad Foundations, for example, offer their grantees lots of advice and counsel and, through the Broad Superintendents Academy program, provide business leaders with the training needed to make a successful transition to leadership positions in urban school districts.
That said, the one constant in Eli Broad's long career, which has spanned five decades and four industries, is a paperweight he received from his wife inscribed with this quotation from George Bernard Shaw:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
And sometimes that means asking "Why not?" instead of accepting "no" for an answer.
Were you at the event? What did you take away from the conversation? And what do you think foundations should be doing, beyond awarding grants, to address the many social, political, and economic challenges we face? Use the comments section to share your thoughts...
-- Regina Mahone