The businessman and philanthropist reflects on his legacy. “I have an absolute need to be aware of the impact of my giving,” he says.
By Brittany Shoot
Sitting in the inconspicuous Belmont office he’s occupied for the better part of four decades, Tad Taube is explaining his philanthropy philosophy. There are really only four options when it comes to doling out one’s fortune, he says quietly. Give your kids too much money and screw up their lives. Give the cash to the government. Let someone else give it away for you. Or, give it away yourself. Anyone paying attention to Bay Area altruism knows Taube has long chosen the latter option.
Taube is used to people listening when he speaks, and as such, he speaks in a soft, measured tone without gesturing wildly about. Instead, as he enumerates his points, he lounges in his well-lit, humbly appointed office with a vaulted ceiling exposing skylights, and light mahogany walls high enough to accommodate what must be hundreds of photos of Taube with his family and political heavyweight pals.
The images fully illuminate the long shadow of his influence, with prominent photos showing Taube with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. There are former presidential candidates—Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush—and former presidents, including Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, is prominently featured. In one glossy pic, a young Taube is next to a young Dianne Feinstein. In another, he’s with close friends, former governor and first lady of California, Pete and Gayle Wilson. The nonpartisan celebs include Oprah Winfrey, private equity pioneer Warren Hellman and the economist Milton Friedman, with his wife, Rose.
At 86, Thaddeus “Tad” Taube is no longer as shy about sharing his age as he once was. And he’s as open as ever about his personal history, growing up in Poland and escaping at age 8 while most of his family was left behind to perish in the Holocaust. His parents survived, but one of his grandfathers was shot in a concentration camp. His sister, he explains, was really his biological cousin, taken in when her parents died in Auschwitz.
His nearly seven decades of professional success is celebrated in the region, beginning in the engineering department at Stanford. It has since included, by Taube’s measure, some 10 different careers, such as a lucrative run in real estate investment, and stints overseeing an institution of higher education as governor of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and owning a short-lived but fierce professional football team. Indeed, one of those office walls is filled with vintage pennants, large-format photos of opening day in 1983, and other Oakland Invaders memorabilia from the era.
Taube is perhaps best known for his work with the Koret Foundation, where he was president from 1982 until 2014. Joseph and Stephanie Koret, famous for inventing a new permanent press process in 1961, called Taube soon after they struck their version of Golden State gold. They were longtime friends with his parents and needed help diversifying some of their growing fortune by investing in real estate.
The Korets also needed a partner in philanthropy. As their partnership expanded over the years—estimates suggest the Koret Foundation has given away more than half a billion dollars—Taube simultaneously built his own philanthropic vehicles including the Taube Family Foundation and the Taube Family Fund for Jewish Life & Culture, which he estimates have given away several tens of millions worth of grants.
“I don’t think being philanthropic is something you’re born with,” he explains, emphasizing that it’s only with age, maturity and mentorship that one understands the importance of giving generously. The late Joseph Koret, he notes, was one of the mentors who taught him the importance of giving generously. (Last year, a bitter dispute was settled between the Koret Foundation board and former Koret chair Susan Koret, who married Joseph following Stephanie’s death in 1978. She had alleged, among other assertions, that Taube allocated Koret Foundation money to “favored causes” that were “politically and socially at odds with the core mission of the foundation.” Board members called Koret “incompetent.” Both she and Taube stepped down.)
Through his various charitable organizations, Taube supports culture and the arts and healthcare causes. He’s particularly focused on measuring impact. If he can’t envision—or someone can’t make the case for—the quantifiable results of a project, “We won’t put our money out to work,” he says. “I have an absolute need to be aware of the impact of my giving.”
He’s also keenly focused on partnerships with other philanthropic heavyweights. “I’ve spent 20 years trying to promote collaboration,” he stresses, noting several recent examples, including funding the permanent installation of the Bay Lights, as well as the renovation of Berkeley’s UC Theatre, now the UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall, to which his foundation contributed a $1.3 million matching grant to help complete the $5.6 million project.
A major focus of his philanthropy is furthering and promoting the Jewish people and culture, whether through the arts, places of worship and study, or even cuisine. This includes supporting organizations and causes in his native Poland. “We had an opportunity to change a country,” he explains of sending support back home. “That has been very satisfying.” One major recent gift includes a $15 million grant to Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem in 2016, the largest grant from Taube Philanthropies to a Jewish organization.
Taube still works 60 hours a week, while fitting in some tennis matches and skiing the slopes. “Multitasking is my life,” he jokes, adding that he continues to act generously with the sober recognition of what happens after we leave the Earth—of what we leave behind as our legacy. The only thing he demurs on is exactly how much of his legacy he’s invested in the Bay Area community he’s long called home. He doesn’t exactly need more organizations vying for his funds.
“We’re doing enough business already,” he adds with a grin.