American businessman Robert Kraft has one of the most extensive and far-reaching portfolios of any of his business counterparts. His position as chairman and CEO of the diversified holding company, the Kraft Group, has seen him claim success in everything from paper and packaging to sports and entertainment, from real estate to private equity management. Meanwhile, his position as owner of the National Football League’s New England Patriots, Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, Gillette Stadium, and the e-sport team, Boston Uprising, makes him one of the most influential figures in sport… and one of its richest. To find out more about the successful entrepreneur, keep reading.
1. His father wanted him to be a Rabbi
Robert Kraft was born in Brookline, Massachusetts to Sarah Bryna and Harry Kraft, a dress manufacturer and lay leader at Congregation Kehillath Israel. The Kraft’s were deeply religious, and Kraft Sr. harbored ambitions for his son to become a rabbi. As a youngster, Kraft was forced to abandon his early passion for sports in favor of after-school Hebrew studies. While he may not have been able to display his talents on the field, he excelled at his studies and served as the senior class president of Brookline High School.
2. He met his wife at University
After graduating Brookline High School, Kraft attended Columbia University, where he joined the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity and began to indulge his passion for the sport by joining the school’s freshman and lightweight football teams. While at Columbia, Kraft met Myra Hiatt at a delicatessen: the pair started dating and just over a year later (in the same year that Kraft graduated from Columbia) they married. The pair remained happily married until Myra’s death from ovarian cancer in 2011.
3. He nearly became a politician
At the age of 27, Kraft came within a hair’s breadth of foregoing his blossoming career in business for one in politics. After he was elected chairman of the Newton Democratic City Committee, he seriously considered furthering his ambitions by running for Congress against incumbent, Phillip J Philbin. Ultimately, he chose not to, citing both the strain a career in politics would place on his young family and the suicide of his friend, State representative, H. James, Jr., as the reasons for his change in heart.
4. His father-in-law gave him his first job
After graduating with an MBA from Harvard Business School, Kraft took a position at his father-in-law’s packing company, Rand-Whitney Group. In 1968, he acquired ownership of the company after a leveraged buyout. 4 years later, he established the paper and packaging company, International Forest Products, and combined the two businesses to form what would become the largest privately held company of its kind in the States.
5. He created the Kraft Group in 1998
International Forest Products became a massive success; by 1997, it was one of the top 100 exporters/importers in the States; by 2013, it was polling 20th. The company’s corrugated and folding cartons were in demand from every field and industry, from cosmetic labels to toy manufactures, from camera makers to confectionary producers. Driven by his success, Kraft began to expand into other areas, and in 1998, he formed the umbrella organization, the Kraft Group, to house his many interests.
6. He made $25 million in TV
Buoyed by the success of his business ventures, Kraft made the move into TV in the early 1980s. in 1983, he became the director and chairman of the New England Television Corp, the parent company of WNEV-TV. In 1986, he helped arrange the financing of the cooperation’s $100 billion buyback of 2.6 million shares, and shortly after, he was appointed director. Kraft remained with the company until 1991, when he unloaded his shares for an estimated $25 million.
7. His first sports team was the Boston Lobsters of World Team Tennis
Kraft’s interest in sport (or more specifically, in owning sports teams) dates all the way back to 1974. That year saw Kraft join with 5 others to acquire the Boston Lobsters of World Team Tennis. Even though it was his first venture of that kind, Kraft clearly knew what he was doing; his strategy of spending big to lure in the top professionals of the day saw the Lobsters become one of the best teams in World Team Tennis.
8. He has friends in high places
Kraft’s various business and philanthropic ventures have bought him into contact with some of the world’s richest and most famous. Among his list of celebrity friends include Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, and the Dalai Lama. He’s also acquainted with one or two of pop’s greatest singers: his friendship with Elton John saw the legendary performer serenade Kraft and his wife with “Moon River’ at the couple’s 40th wedding anniversary celebration. When Myra died, John thoughtfully sent a tall white orchid to show his sympathy.
9. He’s always open to advice
Kraft credits much of his success to always being open to advise, even if that advice sometimes comes from unlikely sources. “I remember when I was running a plant and I used to stay late at night and the guy who used to clean it. Tony,” Kraft recalled to Mass Live. “He had one tooth and he used to sweep the floors and the bathroom. He didn’t have book smarts, but he was a smart guy. And I used to tell him my problems. And, you know, he gave me good advice. So you can learn from everyone. In our family, we try to treat everyone the same, as long as they’re people of character.”
10. He was a fan of the Patriots before he was their owner
Kraft was a passionate fan of the Patriots long before he became their owner. A season ticket holder from all the way back in 1971, Kraft was dogged in his determination to buy the club, enduring and overcoming multiple setbacks and failures over the course of the 10 long years it took him to acquire them.
11. He founded the New England Revolution in 1996
In 1996, Kraft extended his reach in the world of sport when he founded the New England Revolution, a charter member of Major League Soccer. 2 years later, his portfolio expanded again when he acquired the San Jose Clash. In the early 2000s, he briefly considered investing in the English Premier League football club, Liverpool, but ultimately decided against the possibility over concerns about the lack of a salary cap in UK football teams. His concern apparently didn’t apply to e-sports teams, however, and in 2017, Kraft bought into the Boston Uprising, one of 7 teams on the professional e-sports Overwatch League.
12. He’s helped the fight against anti-Semitism
Over the years, Kraft (and by extension, the Kraft family) has donated millions to various Israeli causes. One of his biggest investments has been in American Football Israel: in addition to founding the Kraft Family stadium in Israel and the Kraft Family Israel Football League, he’s also contributed $6 million towards building the first regulation sized American football field in Israel. In June 2019, Kraft demonstrated his ongoing commitment to Jewish causes when he pledged $20 million to establish a foundation to fight anti-Semitism and the BDS movement against Israel.
13. He founded the first inter-religious endowed chairs in the US
In 1990, Kraft joined with his wife and father-in-law to fund an unusual joint professorship between Brandeis University and Holy Cross College. The union saw the creation of an endowed chair in Judaic studies at Holy Cross and an endowed chair in Christian studies at Brandeis- the first inter-religious endowed chairs in the United States. In addition to his contributions to Brandeis and Holy Cross, Kraft has made significant donations to several other educational establishments over the years, including Columbia University, Harvard Business School, Boston College, Tufts University, the Belmont Hill School, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston.
14. He’s donated to healthcare
In 2011, Kraft continued his philanthropic efforts with a $20 million donation to Partners Health Care, a Boston-based non-profit hospital and physicians’ network. The contribution was used to fund the Kraft Family National Center for Leadership and Training in Community Health, a mission that aims to improve access to healthcare throughout Boston and its surrounding areas. 6 years later, he demonstrated his ongoing commitment to the health of Boston’s residents when he funded a new van for the Kraft Center for Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital. The van forms part of a fleet delivering local health care to opioid addicts across Boston.
15. He has four sons
Kraft is the father of four sons with late wife, Myra. All of the sons have followed in their father’s footsteps and have enjoyed positions of rank within his many business ventures. Oldest son Jonathan serves as the president of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots. Daniel, meanwhile, is president of International Forest Products, while Joshua is the president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. Youngest son David is a former director of the Kraft Group.
16. He’s received numerous accolades
Over the course of his career, Kraft has been the recipient of numerous awards, honors, and accolades.
The list is extensive, but a brief snapshot of its highlights includes an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Yeshiva University in 2015, a Carnegie Hall Medal of Excellence Award in 2013, the George S. Halas Courage Award in 2012, the Theodore Roosevelt Award in 2006, and the Columbia University Alexander Hamilton Medal in 2004. To add to his list of distinctions, Kraft was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011 and has had a football field named after him at Columbia University. Most recently, he was honored with the Genesis Prize, a $1 million award given to Jewish people who have achieved excellence in their field.
17. He’s a six-time Super Bowl champion
The list of achievements Kraft has to his name from a sporting perspective is almost as long as those he’s achieved on a personal front. As the owner of the New England Patriots, he’s a six-time Super Bowl champion (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI, LIII) and a 10 times AFC champion (1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018).
18. He dated Ricki Lander
In June 2012, Kraft began a short-lived affair with Ricky Lander, an actress 39 years his junior. A month after they struck up their relationship, Kraft was publicly embarrassed when a videotape of him assisting Lander in creating an audition tape for the Vince Vaughn/ Owen Wilson movie, The Internship, was leaked. The video shows Kraft reading Wilson’s lines, cavorting around the room, cursing and throwing a mock-punch at the bikini-clad Lander. After the video became a talking point and overnight web sensation, Kraft released a statement to say: “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.”
19. He denied paternity of Ricki Lander’s child
In the fall of 2017, Kraft’s ex-girlfriend Lander gave birth. At the time, rumors circulated about whether Kraft was Lander’s baby daddy. Kraft was quick to shut down the rumors, with a spokesperson telling People: “While Robert Kraft is not the biological father, he is thrilled with Ricki’s blessing of having a healthy child. With respect to her family’s privacy, we will not be commenting any further.”
20. He’s been charged with soliciting
In February 2019, it was revealed that Kraft was facing two misdemeanor charges for “soliciting another to commit prostitution”. The charges stemmed from a recording of Kraft having a sex act performed on him at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. The charges were made all the more serious by the suggestion the women involved were the victims of a sex trafficking ring. In March, Kraft’s lawyers submitted a court filing in which Kraft pled not guilty to all charges. As of June, the case is still in progress.