Robert K. Kraft (born June 5, 1941 in Brookline, Massachusetts) is the Founder, Chairman & CEO of The Kraft Group, a diversified holding company with assets in paper & packaging, sports & entertainment, real estate development and a private equity portfolio, New England Patriots and Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, as well as the stadium where they play, Gillette Stadium.
Kraft is also the largest shareholder of Carmel Container Systems LTD, Israel’s largest packaging plant. In 1997 he invested $40 million in a factory in Caesarea in order to provide his company, which employs 700 people, with the most advanced technology available. He is also currently on the Board of Directors of Viacom, and served as a Trustee of Columbia University from 1992 to 2004.
Kraft attended Brookline High School in his hometown, graduating in 1959. He is a 1963 graduate of Columbia University, which he attended on scholarship, and received an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1965. While at Columbia, Kraft played on the school’s Lightweight Football team. He is married to Myra Kraft, a 1964 graduate of Brandeis University and the daughter of the late Worcester philanthropist Jacob Hiatt. Kraft stated on WFAN on February 1, 2008 that he grew up a Giants fan, a common trait of New England football fans prior to the founding of the Patriots franchise in 1960.
He began his career with the Rand-Whitney Group, a packaging company he later acquired. 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. International Forest Products is consistently among the top 100 US exporters/importers and in 2005 was No. 45 on the Journal of Commerce’s list in that category.
In 1986, Kraft helped a minority business group acquire WNEV-TV, a CBS afilliate in Boston. He continued his investment in the entertainment field by buying several Boston radio stations.
A Patriots fan since their American Football League days, he has been a season ticket holder since 1972. He bought an option on the parcel which contained Sullivan Stadium, then the home of the Patriots, in 1985. In 1988, he outbid several competitors to buy the stadium out of bankruptcy court for $25 million. It was renamed Foxboro Stadium in 1990. These transactions and Kraft’s overall business success ultimately gave him the leverage to become owner of the New England Patriots.
In 1992, the Patriots themselves were bought by James Orthwein, a St. Louis native. For the next two years, rumors of a Patriots move to St.Louis were rampant based on the fact that Orthwein wanted to return the NFL to a city that had lost the Cardinals in 1988. Finally, in 1994, Orthwein offered Kraft $75 million to buy out the remainder of the team’s lease at the Foxboro Stadium. If Kraft agreed, it would free Orthwein to move the Patriots to St. Louis. Kraft turned him down, instead making a $175 million bid to buy the team and save the Patriots from relocation. Orthwein had little choice but to accept -- up to that point in history it was the highest price ever paid for a professional team. The price was especially remarkable since the Patriots were at that time one of the least-valued teams in the NFL.
Upon purchasing the team, Kraft made a commitment to Patriots fans that he would bring a Super Bowl and a state of the art facility for the team to New England. His follow-through on those promises would exceed even the wildest of expectations.
The day after the NFL approved the sale in January of 1994, Patriots fans showed their appreciation by purchasing almost 6,000 season tickets en route to selling out every game for the first time in the team’s 34-year history. Every home game has been sold out since. The Patriots responded by putting together a 7-game winning streak to end the season, making the playoffs for the first time since 1986. In 1996, Kraft founded the expansion soccer club, the New England Revolution, which began playing alongside the Patriots at Foxboro.
The Patriots appeared in Super Bowl XX under their original owners, the Sullivans. Yet, this was one of only six playoff appearances in 33 years. However, since Kraft bought the team, they have made the playoffs nine times in 13 years. Under Kraft’s ownership, the Patriots have appeared in more playoff games (19) than in the team’s first 34 seasons combined (10). The team won AFC East titles in 1996, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 and represented the AFC in the Super Bowl in 1996 (lost), 2001 (won) 2003 (won) 2004 (won) and 2007 (lost). The Patriots finished the 2003 and 2004 seasons with identical 14-2 regular-season records -- a franchise record for a team that hadn’t won more than 11 games in a season before Kraft bought the team.
The off-the-field quest for a new stadium was perhaps more difficult than winning championships on the field. After stadium plans that included revamping the area in Foxboro and several in and around the Boston area met a host of obstacles and fell through, the Patriots nearly moved to Hartford, Connecticut in 1999. They reached an agreement with then Connecticut Governor John Rowland to move to a new stadium intended to be the cornerstone of downtown redevelopment. After Rowland lobbied the Connecticut legislature to approve state funds for the stadium the Patriots were given another opportunity to resume negotiations with the Massachusetts legislators who had initially balked on paying for site improvements for a new stadium in Foxboro. At the last minute the Massachusetts legislature approved the subsidies and hurdles were cleared for what became Gillette Stadium in their longtime home of Foxboro. The new stadium opened in 2002.
Kraft recently addressed the 2005 class of Columbia College upon their graduation regarding the driving forces in his life: “Family, Faith, Philanthropy, and FOOTBALL”. In a break with commonly accepted spelling, Mr. Kraft termed this heady combination the “Four ‘F’s.”
Later in 2005, a minor international incident was caused when it was reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had inadvertently taken one of Kraft’s three Super Bowl rings. Kraft quickly cleared up the misunderstanding, stating that he had given Putin the ring out of “respect and admiration” he had for Putin and the Russian people. However, Kraft’s wife Myra states that the initial claim is true.
In November 2005, met with Rick Parry, the Chief Executive of English Football team Liverpool. Kraft was rumoured to be interested in investing money into the 2004-05 European Champions. Kraft told BBC Radio Five 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.
Robert and his wife Myra have donated tens of millions of dollars to a variety of philanthropic causes including education, child and women issues, healthcare, youth sports and American and Israeli causes. 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, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. One of their most distinctive projects is the Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem, built in 2000 and the host to a 33-team flag football league as well as other sporting events. 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.”