MSU Benefactor Eli Broad Talks About His New Book: "The Art Of Being Unreasonable"

May 31, 2012

At Michigan State University, few names are as recognizable as that of Eli Broad.

Broad’s financial support of his alma mater is unmatched. In total, Broad and his wife Edythe have given MSU more than $60 million. Those gifts have primarily supported the College of Business, the school’s new art museum, and MSU’s partnership with Detroit public schools.

Forbes magazine estimates his net worth at $6.3 billion.

In a new book, Broad now tells the story of how he made his fortune.

“The Art Of Being Unreasonable: Lessons In Unconventional Thinking” also details what Broad has done with his wealth to further his causes. 

Broad told WKAR’s Scott Pohl that this is more than the typical “I did it and so can you” how-to book.

ELI BROAD: Yes, it is. I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned as a result of all my experiences in starting two Fortune 500 companies, and also, what I’m doing in philanthropy, in education reform, the arts, scientific and medical research and the like. So, I think there are lessons there that others can learn from, and also learn from some of my mistakes.

SCOTT POHL: Well, it’s hard to believe you’ve made a lot of mistakes.

BROAD: There aren’t too many, you’re right. The biggest one, probably, is when we decided to get out of the cable TV business, almost 40 years ago, because it was consuming too much capital. If we’d gotten out of homebuilding instead and kept cable, we’d have been far better off.

Broad defines "unreasonable"

POHL: One of the things I wanted to make sure we spoke about has to do with referring to yourself as unreasonable, and how that’s helped you get ahead in business. It makes me wonder if we shouldn’t define what you mean by unreasonable. It doesn’t mean necessarily being mean, or going into negotiations with a vantage point of winning at all costs, and yet there is something to that, that led to successful negotiations and success in business for you.

BROAD: That came about, frankly, from a George Bernard Shaw quote that my wife gave me several years after we were married, and it said that “all progress comes from unreasonable men,” because the reasonable person accepts the status quo and doesn’t want to change anything. That’s how “unreasonable” came about, but there’s an art to being unreasonable, and what’s the art? The art is when you want to do something that hasn’t been done before, people say it’s not going to work, it’s not conventional, it hasn’t happened before, it’s too risky. You’ve got to say “why not”?, and if you don’t get an answer that convinces you not to do it, you’ve got to go ahead! People look at you and think you’re just unreasonable in pushing ahead something that they don’t think will succeed.

Art and the impact of the Broad Museum

POHL: I think that while people are watching the Broad Art Museum go up here in East Lansing, there are chapters in the book that explain your interest in art and your reason for investing in art, and your philanthropy in art, that will be of interest to people as they watch the building go up and anticipate its opening this fall.

BROAD: Well, the building is going to be a great piece of architecture by Zaha Hadid. We went ahead and had the university go ahead with an international competition, and the jury selected an architect that was very different than the other buildings on the campus, as you know. President Lou Anna Simon said this is going to take us into the 22nd century! It’s going to get people from throughout the world wanting to see the building and the collection, rather than simply building another common, ordinary brick building on campus. So, some people thought that was unreasonable to do that, rather than going ahead with another building made out of red brick.

We think that this building, together with the collection the university has and the art we’re going to loan, together with our great director and their staff, is going to be a great addition to the university, and it’s going to really get people from all of central Michigan interested in contemporary and other art. So, we’re excited about all that and excited about the opening this coming fall.