Robert Kenneth Kraft
June 5, 1941
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Education||Columbia University (BA)|
Harvard University (MBA)
|Net worth||US$6.9 billion (January 2020)|
(m. 1963; died 2011)
|Ricki Noel Lander (2012-2018)|
|Children||4, including Jonathan|
|New England Patriots|
|Career highlights and awards|
Robert Kenneth Kraft (born June 5, 1941) is an American billionaire businessman. He is the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Kraft Group, a diversified holding company with assets in paper and packaging, sports and entertainment, real estate development and a private equity portfolio. He is the owner of the National Football League's New England Patriots, Major League Soccer's New England Revolution, and Gillette Stadium, where both teams play. He also owns the Boston Uprising, the first esports team in New England.
Kraft was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Sarah Bryna (Webber) and Harry Kraft, a dress manufacturer in Boston's Chinatown. His mother was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia; his father was a lay leader at Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline and wanted his son to become a rabbi. The Krafts were a Modern Orthodox Jewish family. Robert attended the Edward Devotion School and graduated from Brookline High School in 1959, where he was senior class president. During high school, he was unable to participate in most sports because it interfered with his after-school Hebrew studies and observance of the Sabbath.
Kraft attended Columbia University where he served as class president. He played running back and safety on the school's freshman and lightweight football teams. He met Myra Hiatt at a delicatessen in Boston's Back Bay in 1962, and they married in June 1963. He graduated from Columbia that same year, and he received an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1965.
Kraft was elected chairman of the Newton Democratic City Committee when he was 27. He considered running against Representative Philip J. Philbin in 1970 but chose not to, citing the loss of privacy and strain on his family that politics would have caused. He was further discouraged from entering politics by the suicide of his friend State Representative H. James Shea, Jr.
Kraft began his professional career with the Rand-Whitney Group, a Worcester-based packaging company run by his father-in-law Jacob Hiatt. In 1968, he gained control of the company through a leveraged buyout. He still serves as this company's chairman. In 1972, he founded International Forest Products, a trader of physical paper commodities. The two combined companies make up the largest privately held paper and packaging companies in the United States. Kraft has stated that he started the company out of a hunch that the increase in international communications and transportation would lead to an expansion of global trade in the late twentieth century.
International Forest Products became a top 100 US exporter/importer in 1997 and in 2013 was ranked No. 20 on the Journal of Commerce's list in that category. Kraft said of the business in 1991 that, "We do things for a number of companies, including Avon, Kodak, cosmetics companies, candies, toys." The company produced both corrugated and folding cartons, which he stated, "are used to package everything from the Patriot missile, to mints, to Estee Lauder, Indiana Glass and Polaroid." Kraft acquired interests in other areas, and ultimately formed the Kraft Group as an umbrella for them in 1998.
Kraft was an investor in New England Television Corp., which gained control of WNAC-TV in 1982, and Kraft became a director of the board in 1983. The station then became WNEV-TV. In 1986, he was named president of the corporation. In 1991, Kraft exercised his option to unload his shares for an estimated $25 million.
In 1974, Kraft and five others purchased the Boston Lobsters of World TeamTennis (WTT). The group spent heavily to lure a number of top players, including Martina Navratilova, and the Lobsters became one of the best teams in WTT. Following the 1978 season, Kraft announced that the franchise would fold. The league itself folded soon thereafter.
Kraft has been a Patriots fan since their American Football League days and has been a season ticket holder since 1971 when the team moved to Schaefer Stadium. In 1985, he bought a 10-year option on Foxboro Raceway, a horse track adjacent to the stadium, and the purchase prevented Patriots owner Billy Sullivan from holding non-Patriot events at the stadium while races were being held. Kraft took advantage of the fact that the Sullivans owned the stadium but not the surrounding land, and it was the beginning of a quest to buy the stadium and the Patriots. Sullivan's family was reeling from a series of bad investments, principally The Jackson Five 1984 Victory Tour, for which they had to pledge Sullivan Stadium as collateral. Those problems ultimately forced Sullivan to sell controlling interest of the team in 1988, while the stadium lapsed into bankruptcy.
In 1988, Kraft outbid several competitors to buy the stadium out of bankruptcy court from Sullivan for $22 million. The stadium was considered to be outdated and nearly worthless, but the purchase included the stadium's lease to the Patriots which ran through 2001. Kraft placed a bid on the Patriots franchise as well, but he lost the bidding to Victor Kiam. Sullivan and Kiam then tried to move the team to Jacksonville, but Kraft refused to let them break the lease. Kiam was nearly brought down by bad investments of his own and was forced to sell the Patriots to James Orthwein in 1992.
In 1994, Orthwein offered Kraft $75 million to buy out the remainder of the team's lease at Foxboro Stadium, but Kraft turned it down. Orthwein was not interested in operating the team in New England and decided to sell it. Prospective buyers had to deal with Kraft, however, due to terms in the operating covenant, and he offered $172 million for an outright purchase which Orthwein accepted. It was the highest price ever paid for an NFL team at the time. While future St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke had actually offered more money ($200 million), Orthwein would have had to bear all of the team's relocation expenses. Orthwein would have also been responsible for paying the costs of an all-but-certain legal battle over the lease, as Kraft let it be known that he would go to court to enforce the covenant.
Kraft said that his passion for the Patriots led him to "break every one of my financial rules" in his pursuit of the team. He still keeps a Victory Tour poster in his office as a reminder of what set in motion the events that allowed him to buy the Patriots. Following the NFL's approval of the sale, the Patriots sold out their entire 1994 season, the first full sell-out in franchise history, and every home game has been sold out ever since, including pre-season, regular season, and playoffs.
In 1998, Kraft considered moving the Patriots to Hartford, Connecticut based on an offer that the state of Connecticut would finance a new stadium, but he terminated the deal just before it became binding to instead build a new stadium in Foxboro with Massachusetts infrastructure funding. In 2002, Kraft financed a $350-million stadium for the Patriots initially called CMGI Field but renamed Gillette Stadium. In 2007, Kraft began to develop the land around Gillette Stadium, creating a $375-million open-air shopping and entertainment center called Patriot Place. The development included "The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon," a multi-story museum and hall of fame attached to the stadium, and the "CBS Scene," a CBS-themed restaurant.
Under Kraft's ownership, the Patriots experienced sustained success. While they appeared in Super Bowl XX under the Sullivans, this was one of only six playoff appearances in 34 years. However, they have made the playoffs 19 times in 24 years since Kraft purchased them. They have won 19 AFC East titles, including all but two since 2001 and 11 in a row since 2009. They represented the AFC in the Super Bowl in 1996 (lost), 2001 (won), 2003 (won), 2004 (won), 2007 (lost), 2011 (lost), 2014 (won), 2016 (won), 2017 (lost) and 2018 (won). After having never won more than 11 games prior to Kraft's arrival, the Patriots have won at least 12 games 13 times, including finishing the 2007 regular season undefeated before losing to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday said of Kraft, "He is a man who helped us save football."
In 2005, Kraft gave Russian President Vladimir Putin one of his three Super Bowl rings out of "respect and admiration" for the Russian people and Putin's leadership. Kraft later said that his earlier statement was not true and had been issued under pressure from the White House. The ring is on display with state gifts at the Kremlin.
In 1996, Kraft founded the New England Revolution, a charter member of Major League Soccer which began playing alongside the Patriots at Foxboro Stadium. Kraft also owned the San Jose Clash (later San Jose Earthquakes) from 1998 to 2000.
In November 2005, Kraft met with Rick Parry, the Chief Executive of English Premier League team Liverpool. Kraft was rumored to be interested in investing money into the 2004-05 Champions League winners. Kraft told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Liverpool is a great brand and it's something our family respects a lot. We're always interested in opportunities and growing, so you never know what can happen." Eventually, however, the club was sold to American duo George Gillett and Tom Hicks. Liverpool is now owned by Fenway Sports Group, owners of fellow Boston-based sport team the Boston Red Sox.
Blizzard Entertainment announced in July 2017 that Kraft bought ownership in the Boston Uprising, one of the first seven teams for the professional esports Overwatch League. They played in Season 1 of the Overwatch League. Preseason for the league began December 6, 2017, and the regular season started on January 10, 2018. Boston Uprising finished third in the Overwatch League's inaugural season.
The Krafts have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to a variety of philanthropic causes including education, child- and women-related issues, healthcare, youth sports and American and Israeli causes.
One of their most distinctive projects is supporting American Football Israel, including Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem and the Kraft Family Israel Football League. In 2017, Kraft announced a contribution of $6 million to build the first ever regulation size American football field in Israel. In June 2017, Robert Kraft, along with several NFL Hall of Famers, traveled to Israel for the grand opening of the new Kraft Family Sports Campus. In December 2018, following Pittsburgh synagogue shooting at Tree of Life, Kraft visited the synagogue to pay his respects and attended services with the congregation before the Patriots played the Steelers in a game the next day.
In 2000, Kraft donated $11.5 million to construct the Columbia/Hillel which is made of the same white stone used in Jerusalem.
In June 2019, Kraft received Israel's prestigious Genesis Prize, a $1 million award granted to an individual who is committed to Jewish values and is an inspiration to the next generation of Jews. At the Jerusalem event, Kraft pledged $20 million to establish a foundation that will fight antisemitism and combat the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, also known as BDS.
In 1990, Kraft, his wife, and his father-in-law funded a joint professorship between Brandeis University and Holy Cross College, forming the Kraft-Hiatt endowed chairs in comparative religion - the first inter-religious endowed chairs in the United States.
Among the many institutions the Krafts have supported are Columbia University, Harvard Business School, Brandeis University, The College of the Holy Cross, Boston College, Tufts University, Yeshiva University, the Belmont Hill School, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston.
In 2007, in recognition of a gift of $5 million in support of Columbia's intercollegiate athletics program, the playing field at Columbia's Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at the Baker Field Athletics Complex was named Robert K. Kraft Field.
In 2011, the Krafts pledged $20 million to Partners HealthCare to launch the Kraft Family National Center for Leadership and Training in Community Health, an initiative designed to improve access to quality healthcare at community health centers throughout New England. The Krafts supported the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
In 2017, Kraft funded a new van as part of the Kraft Center for Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital in order to help combat the opioid crisis in Boston. The vans allows those struggling with opioid addiction to seek health services in their own neighborhood.
In 2020, Kraft partnered with Chinese company Tencent to purchase over one million N95 masks to donate to medical workers in New York and Massachusetts to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, sending the New England Patriots' private team plane to China to deliver the supplies. Kraft initially negotiated for 1.7 million masks, but only 1.2 million fit on board. They were allowed only three hours on the ground in China at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport. Using the New England Patriots truck, they distributed 300,000 masks in New York City, 900,000 masks in Massachusetts and 100,000 in Rhode Island.
In 2019, Kraft teamed with recording artists Jay-Z and Meek Mill, as well as Michael Rubin, the executive chairman of Fanatics, among others to announce a foundation of criminal justice reform called REFORM Alliance https://reformalliance.com/. In coordination with the REFORM Alliance, Kraft spread some holiday cheer on Dec. 21, 2019 by flying more than 50 children (ages 5-17) on the Patriots' team charter to attend the Patriots game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. The children attending the game each had parents who have been incarcerated for technical probation violations.
On July 13, 2019, Kraft pledged $100,000 to the families of seven motorcyclists killed in a crash the month before. "Kraft joined thousands of bikers at a memorial event for the victims outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. and pledged to donate the money to a GoFundMe page set up to assist the victims' families. All seven of those killed in the June 21 crash were members or supporters of the Jarheads, a New England motorcycle club that includes Marines and their spouses. 'The Jarheads are what makes America the greatest,' Kraft told the crowd. 'We are all Patriots and you are the true patriots.'"
In June 1963, Kraft married Myra Nathalie Hiatt, a 1964 graduate of Brandeis University and the daughter of the late Worcester, Massachusetts, businessman and philanthropist Jacob Hiatt. She died due to ovarian cancer, aged 68, on July 20, 2011. The Krafts were members of Temple Emanuel in Newton, Massachusetts. A patch bearing Kraft's initials (MHK) appeared on the Patriots' uniform jersey throughout the 2011 season. The couple had four sons:
In June 2012, Kraft began dating actress Ricki Noel Lander, who is 39 years younger than him. In July 2012, Kraft assisted Lander in creating an audition video for a role in The Internship, a then-upcoming Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson film. In the video, Kraft reads Wilson's lines for a bikini-clad Lander, dances briefly, curses, and throws a punch at another actor. After an anonymously supplied copy of the video was hosted on the Barstool Sports website, it went viral and became a subject of commentary on late night television. In a statement, Kraft said, "I tried to help Ricki prepare an audition tape ... I never intended that it would be made public and I regret that it has. I think we can all agree that Owen Wilson has nothing to worry about. I am going to stick to my day job."
Lander gave birth to a child in the fall of 2017. While there was speculation that Kraft was the father, he denied paternity of the child when the birth was announced in May 2018.
Kraft and Lander broke up in 2018.
On February 22, 2019, the police chief of Jupiter, Florida, announced that Kraft would face two misdemeanor charges for "soliciting another to commit prostitution", stemming from a human trafficking sweep in Jupiter. Investigators suspected the managers at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where Kraft was allegedly video recorded in sexual activity, were sex trafficking women, forcing the women to perform sex acts on clients. Deputies had begun to monitor the day spas, and were able to place hidden cameras inside the facility. They claim Kraft was caught on camera "receiving the alleged acts" (believed to be oral sex), according to the lead investigator. A spokesperson for Kraft issued a statement to "categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity." On February 25, Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, announced that Kraft was among 25 people facing first-degree misdemeanor charges for soliciting prostitution at the Jupiter day spa. The next day, Kraft's attorney electronically entered a not guilty plea in Palm Beach County. Kraft has assembled a legal "dream team" to provide his defense, namely Alex Spiro, William Burck, and Jeffrey Goldberger.
On March 19, men arrested in the sting operation, including Kraft, were offered a plea deal that would require 100 hours of community service, attending classes concerning the dangers of prostitution, and paying a $5,000 fine for each charge count. While accepting the plea deal would lead to cases being expunged, it would require defendants to admit "that they would have been found guilty had the case gone to trial." In a statement released on March 22, Kraft stated, "I am truly sorry." His attorney William Burck has stated, "There was no human trafficking and law enforcement knows it," while also asserting evidence in the case, from hidden cameras inside the spa and traffic stops, was obtained illegally. On March 26, Kraft's lawyers submitted a court filing, in which Kraft "waives arraignment, pleads not guilty to all charges and requests a jury trial." On April 2, papers filed by Kraft's attorneys revealed that the hidden video cameras at the day spa had been installed when investigators entered the facility under the guise of a bomb threat in January. Kraft's legal team seeks to have the video recordings suppressed as evidence. His lawyers also sought to bar the videos from being released to the public; although on April 17, Florida prosecutors said they "cannot delay the release of records" and that they intended to release pixelated videos. Later that day, Florida Circuit Court Judge Joseph Marx ordered that the videos not be released prior to a hearing, and on April 23, Judge Leonard Hanser temporarily sealed the videos until a jury is selected or the case against Kraft is otherwise resolved. On May 13, Judge Hanser further ruled that prosecutors cannot use the videos in their case against Kraft, as detectives "did not do enough to minimize the invasion of privacy of other customers." On October 1, prosecutors submitted a formal appeal of that ruling to suppress video evidence.
On August 19, 2020, a Florida appeals court ruled that law enforcement violated Kraft's constitutional rights when obtaining certain video evidence, and they ruled that the video is not admissible in court.
Kraft has received numerous honorary degrees from several colleges and universities and was awarded the NCAA's highest honor when he received the Theodore Roosevelt Award, "presented annually to a distinguished citizen of national reputation and outstanding accomplishments."