Donald Bren, an acclaimed master planner and builder, grew up in Los Angeles, where from an early age he loved exploring the surrounding oak woodlands, sandstone canyons and Pacific Coast beaches.
“I’ve always viewed Southern California as a very special place where the countryside meets the sea,” he has said.
After earning his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington and spending three years as a U.S. Marine Corps officer, Bren, then 25, returned to build his first house in Newport Beach. In that same year, he founded the Bren Company to build more local homes and in 1963 helped launch the Mission Viejo Company, which planned and developed the 11,000-acre city of Mission Viejo.
In 1968, Bren moved on to help create other master-planned communities, including Westlake Village and Newhall Ranch in Southern California and Foster City in the San Francisco Bay Area. Five years later, he joined a group of investors who purchased Irvine Company from the Irvine Foundation, and in 1983, Bren was elected as the Company’s Chairman of the Board, after which he became the principal shareholder, making him the chief steward of Irvine Company’s major asset: the 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch.
Bren was determined that the land, stretching from the Santa Ana Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, would be known as much for what was conserved as what was built. And he has been true to his word: The historic Irvine Ranch today includes not only the widely celebrated, master-planned city of Irvine, but 57,500 acres of permanently preserved open space, with hundreds of miles of trails to explore on bike or foot.
Over the past several decades, Bren’s commitment to conservation and conscientious planning has extended to his future-focused philanthropy, including generous support for higher education, research and public schools. Business Week has recognized Bren as one of America’s top philanthropists. His total philanthropic giving is in excess of $2.1 Billion.