For more than 45 years, Donald Bren, chairman of Irvine Company, has been deeply involved in California real estate as a master planner, master builder and a long-term investor.
A leader and innovator within the real estate industry, Mr. Bren was one of the first to combine well-designed homes with such amenities as parks and substantial open space, excellent schools, employment centers and retail centers to create balanced master-planned communities.
Through his accomplishments, he has earned a national reputation as an expert in the interrelated fields of planning, design, architecture, construction, marketing and finance.
As a community entrepreneur, Mr. Bren is also one of the state’s most generous philanthropists, focusing his contributions to significantly impact education and research, as well as to implement innovative approaches to the conservation of sensitive lands, open spaces and parklands.
In 2008, BusinessWeek magazine ranked Mr. Bren ninth on its annual list of “The 50 Most Generous Philanthropists” in the country, estimating that he has given more than $1.3 billion during his lifetime. In 2004, in recognition of his wide-ranging support for the University of California system, Mr. Bren was awarded its highest honor, the University of California Presidential Medal. In 2006, The Los Angeles Times placed him atop its list of the 100 most influential people in Southern California. And in 2007, Mr. Bren was elected a Fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Fellows are elected from all over the world through a highly competitive process and are chosen for their major and lasting contributions to their disciplines and society. Mr. Bren was elected in the category of Business, Corporate and Philanthropic Leadership.
“Simply put, Orange County looks like Orange County – much of it uniformly manicured and catering to the high life and high tech – because of the influence of Bren,” The Los Angeles Times wrote. “UC Irvine, Fashion Island, the Irvine Spectrum, University Research Park, Newport Coast, Orange County’s thousands of acres of wilderness and parkland, and its enviable public school systems all bear Bren’s imprint.”
Mr. Bren’s vision and unique expertise are guiding the creation of the nation’s premier master-planned community on The Irvine Ranch® in central Orange County, 93,000 acres stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the inland mountains of the Cleveland National Forest.
“We want to produce a great urban culture that balances high-quality development and environmental sensitivity to yield a quality of life unmatched anywhere,” he told Fortune magazine.
Under Mr. Bren’s leadership, Irvine Company has been evolving from an internationally recognized community developer to one of the nation’s premier real estate investment companies. Most of Irvine Company’s land and real estate assets are in Orange County. The company also owns high-quality investment properties in Los Angeles, San Diego, Silicon Valley and Chicago.
The company’s portfolio of 98-million square feet includes 490 office buildings, 116 apartment communities, 41 retail centers, five marinas, three hotels and three golf clubs. In 2008, The Resort at Pelican Hill on Newport Coast® opened — and in the past three years — has garnered rave reviews from guests and the media, solidifying its place as a premier “iconic” luxury resort.
Mr. Bren has long been at the forefront of efforts to protect our environment and our environmentally sensitive land in Southern California. The process began in 1983, when Mr. Bren, participating in the role of community entrepreneur, initiated a comprehensive master planning effort to evaluate the role of significant amounts of open space on The Irvine Ranch®. In 1988, the company signed a landmark Open Space Agreement with the City of Irvine, specifying where thousands of acres of permanent open space would be set aside for residents to enjoy in perpetuity.
Irvine Company entered into an “uncommon alliance” with The Nature Conservancy in 1991 to oversee the stewardship of the sensitive habitat and open space on The Irvine Ranch® and, in 1996, set aside thousands of acres of precious open space habitat for endangered and threatened plant and animal species with the first-ever Natural Community Conservation Plan.
In 2001, the donation of thousands of additional acres of environmentally diverse land brought the amount of permanently protected land on The Irvine Ranch® to more than 50,000 acres—more than half of the entire 93,000-acre ranch. Mr. Bren created the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and committed $50 million for the long-term management, preservation and restoration of the land’s natural resources.
These efforts were formally recognized in 2006 with the designation of these protected parks and open spaces as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and National Park Service. In 2008, the land was also designated as the first California Natural Landmark by the State of California.
Mr. Bren has made education and research his other philanthropic priorities. Irvine Company and the Donald Bren Charitable Trust have made significant contributions to K-12 public schools on The Irvine Ranch® and to institutions of higher education in California. Mr. Bren’s educational philanthropy ranges from major contributions for enrichment programs to after-school programs for low-income children, such as THINK Together in Santa Ana, and scholarship awards, to funding more than 50 endowed chairs for distinguished faculty at institutions for higher learning.
At the University of California, Mr. Bren has contributed more to support endowed chairs than any other single donor in UC’s history. Privately and through the Donald Bren Charitable Trust and related activities, he has directed meaningful contributions to support faculty and programmatic excellence at University of California.
“For well over two decades, Mr. Bren’s focus on the creation of endowment funds to support faculty chairs has helped bring to the University of California some of the best researchers and scholars in the nation and the world,” then-UC President Robert Dynes said when Mr. Bren was awarded the UC Presidential Medal in 2004. “His passionate philanthropy and commitment to educational excellence have helped strengthen the university.”
Mr. Bren has played an instrumental role in UC Irvine’s ascension into the top ranks of research universities. His philanthropy has established more than 36 endowed chairs, and helped establish the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences and Donald Bren Endowment at UCI. Among his other contributions to UCI are major gifts in support of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Bren Events Center, the Graduate School of Business, the Beckman Institute, the UC Irvine Foundation and the lead gift for the new UC Irvine School of Law. Mr. Bren received the UCI Medal, the campus’ highest honor, in 1989.
He helped establish the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, a significant graduate studies program at UC Santa Barbara that is dedicated to the prevention and solution of environmental issues. In 2009, The Sunday Times of London recognized Mr. Bren as one of the top 10 environmentalists in the world.
In addition to UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, Mr. Bren also has funded endowed chairs for distinguished Bren Professors at Caltech, Chapman University and the Marine Corps University. Mr. Bren has endowed 51 chairs in total for distinguished faculty and researchers at universities and research institutions.
Mr. Bren serves on the board of trustees at Caltech, UC Irvine Foundation and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Born in Los Angeles, Mr. Bren was raised there and in Newport Beach, California. He earned a degree in business administration and economics from the University of Washington where he also pursued business school graduate studies. Following school, he served for three years as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marine Corps University Foundation in 2003 awarded Mr. Bren its most prestigious award, the General Leonard F. Chapman Medallion named in honor of the 24th Commandant of the Marine Corps. Also, in 1998, the Foundation awarded Mr. Bren the Semper Fidelis Award, presented to distinguished Americans whose commitment to excellence embodies those qualities of leadership and character uniquely associated with the Marine Corps.
Mr. Bren began his business career in 1958 by founding the Bren Company, which built homes in Orange County. In 1963, he formed the Mission Viejo Company and, as president, began the master planning and development of the 11,000-acre new community of Mission Viejo in Orange County.
In 1967, Mr. Bren sold his interest in the Mission Viejo Company to focus his attention on the Bren Company and California Pacific, which has built residential communities in Orange County, Los Angeles, Ventura County, San Diego and Northern California.
Mr. Bren joined a group of investors in 1977 to purchase Irvine Company from the Irvine Foundation. His 34 percent share of the company made him the largest shareholder. He became a member of the company’s executive committee and vice chairman. In 1983, Mr. Bren was elected chairman of the board and he purchased additional outstanding shares from shareholders to secure additional ownership of the company, thereby becoming the company’s principal shareholder. In 1996, he became the sole shareholder.
Describing his mission for Irvine Company, he says, “As master planners and master builders, we are blending architectural and planning skills, plus business and financial disciplines, to produce superbly balanced communities. I consider the Irvine Company land a quintessential challenge and opportunity for anyone in real estate.”
Mr. Bren is an Olympic-class skier, an avid tennis player and a longtime sailor.