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Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist, contemporary art collector and entrepreneur, has died

Over the course of nearly two decades, Mr. Broad and his wife, Edythe, donated $1.1 billion to the Broad Institute in Cambridge.
Over the course of nearly two decades, Mr. Broad and his wife, Edythe, donated $1.1 billion to the Broad Institute in Cambridge.KENDRICK BRINSON/NYT

Eli Broad, the billionaire entrepreneur whose philanthropy enabled the creation of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, one of the most influential scientific research centers in the country, died Friday at 87, according to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Mr. Broad, who cofounded homebuilding pioneer Kaufman and Broad Inc. and launched financial services giant SunAmerica Inc., had devoted his life to philanthropy since 1999, according to a statement from the Broad Foundation. He and his wife, known as Edye, have committed more than $5 billion through their foundations.

A patron of arts and sciences especially in his home in Los Angeles, Mr. Broad made his largest charitable donations to the Broad Institute, beginning in 2003 and continuing over the years to total some $1.1 billion. Using newfound insights from the decoding of the human genome, the Broad brought together scientists of different disciplines to collaborate and take medicine beyond the treatment of symptoms of disease to fix the underlying causes of genetically linked illnesses.

Todd Golub, the Cambridge institute’s director and one of its first scientists, said in an e-mail to its community Friday that Mr. Broad’s “impact on the [institute] and biomedicine is immeasurable.”

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Without Eli, the Broad as we know it today would not exist,” Golub wrote. “His involvement didn’t stop with our founding. He was known for high expectations in the business world, and he brought those same expectations to his philanthropic investments, expecting results and inspiring excellence.”

Suzi Emmerling, a spokeswoman for the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, confirmed his death to the Associated Press. Emmerling said Mr. Broad died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a long illness. No services have been announced.

“As a businessman Eli saw around corners, as a philanthropist he saw the problems in the world and tried to fix them, as a citizen he saw the possibility in our shared community, and as a husband, father, and friend he saw the potential in each of us,” Gerun Riley, president of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, said in a statement Friday.

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The Broad Institute brings together biologists, physicians, chemists, computer scientists, and others from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals to seek new ways to understand and treat human diseases.

Over the past two decades, institute officials say they have discovered genes and molecular underpinnings of diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer, and have begun revealing key vulnerabilities in cells that could be targeted by drugs. More recently, the institute has played a major role in the fight against COVID-19 through research and testing.

The institute was launched with his first donation, of $100 million. Known for his devotion to Los Angeles, Mr. Broad then had no connections to Cambridge.

“Edy and I have been asked why, as L.A. residents, we are creating the Broad Institute here in Cambridge and the answer is simple ... the science is more important than the geography,” Mr. Broad told Harvard Magazine at the time. “There is no place in America, or elsewhere in the world, we believe, that has the combined scientific quality and leadership that’s here in Cambridge.”

As a young accountant in the 1950s, Mr. Broad saw opportunity in the booming real estate market. He quit his job and partnered with developer Donald Kaufman and began building starter homes for first-time buyers eager to claim their slice of the American Dream. The company eventually became KB Home, one of the most successful home developers in the nation.

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Nearly 30 years later, Mr. Broad spotted opportunity once more and transformed the company’s insurance arm into a retirement savings conglomerate that catered to the financial needs of aging baby boomers.

In the process, Mr. Broad became one of the nation’s wealthiest men, with a financial net worth estimated by Forbes magazine Friday at $6.9 billion.

He also gained a reputation for being a driven, tenacious dealmaker.

“If you play it safe all of the time, you don’t get very far,” Mr. Broad told Investor’s Business Daily in 2005.

Outside work, Mr. Broad used his wealth and status to bring about civic, educational, scientific, and cultural improvement projects, particularly in Los Angeles. The New York native had moved to the city’s tony Brentwood section in 1963. His charitable foundations donated millions to such projects, particularly those aimed at improving public education, and established endowments at several universities across the nation.

The son of Lithuanian immigrants, Mr. Broad was born June 6, 1933, in New York City but raised in Detroit.

Mr. Broad earned his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University in 1954. In 1991, he endowed the university’s Eli Broad College of Business and Eli Broad Graduate School of Management.

At 20, he passed Michigan’s certified public accountant exam, becoming the youngest person at the time to do so. The following year, he married his hometown sweetheart, Edythe. The couple had two sons, Jeffrey and Gary. His wife and sons survive him, according to The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

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In 1957, at the age of 23, he went into business with Kaufman, selling homes in the suburbs of Detroit. The first homes sold for about $12,000, about 10 percent less than competitors because they were built without customary basements and in about half the time.

Kaufman and Mr. Broad took their approach West, first to Arizona then California. They relocated the company’s corporate headquarters to Los Angeles in 1963.

In 1971, Mr. Broad bought an insurance company as a hedge against the boom and bust cycles of the housing market. As he had done prior to venturing into real estate, Mr. Broad began doing research on the insurance market and saw financial planning for retirees as a better business. He began shifting the subsidiary’s focus toward selling annuities and other retirement savings products.

The company was renamed SunAmerica in 1989, with Mr. Broad as its chairman and chief executive. In 1998, New York-based American International Group acquired SunAmerica for $16.5 billion.

Two years later, Mr. Broad stepped down as chief, but retained the title of chairman.

In recent years, Mr. Broad spent much of his time engaged in philanthropic work through his foundations, advocating for public education reform, promoting the rebirth of Los Angeles’ downtown as a commercial and residential center and other causes.

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In 1999, the Broads founded the Broad Education Foundation, with the goal of improving urban public education. The foundation committed more than $500 million toward the cause in its first five years.

Mr. Broad took a CEO’s approach, believing that troubled schools often could be vastly improved if they were better managed by their principals.

“These are huge enterprises,” Mr. Broad said of urban school districts in an interview with Forbes magazine in 2003. “You don’t start at the bottom. You start at the top.”



Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.