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Robert Kraft is the founder, chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group, based in Foxborough, Mass. The Kraft Group is the holding company of the Kraft family's many businesses, including the New England Patriots, New England Revolution, Gillette Stadium, International Forest Products, Rand-Whitney Group, Rand-Whitney Containerboard and a portfolio of more than 100 private equity investments.
A life-long football fan and 23-year New England Patriots season ticket holder before buying the team, Kraft became the chairman and CEO of the Patriots when he took ownership on Jan. 21, 1994, and pledged, “My objective in buying the Patriots is to help bring a championship to New England.” That seemed to be a tall order considering the team's prior success rate. In the five year's prior to Kraft's ownership, the team had won just 19 of 80 games (a .238 winning percentage) with no playoff appearances. In fact, in the 34-year history of the franchise (1960-93) the Patriots had won just 229 games (including playoffs), averaging fewer than seven wins (6.6 avg.) per season.
The year Kraft bought the team (1994), the Patriots qualified for the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, a feat that was repeated four times in his first five seasons as owner. In the past 22 seasons (1994-2015), the Patriots won 266 games (including playoffs) for an average of just over 12 (12.1 avg.) wins per season.
Playoff games offer another stark contrast. Prior to 1994, Patriots fans had only been treated to one home playoff game, which the Patriots lost to the Houston Oilers in 1978. Since 1994, the Patriots have qualified for the playoffs 17 times, 15 as division champions, and hosted 21 home playoff games, in which they have gone 18-3 (.857).
The worst-to-first ascent of the New England Patriots since Kraft purchased the team may be the greatest in sports history. Under Kraft's leadership, the Patriots have won more division titles (15), conference crowns (7) and Super Bowl championships (4) than any other NFL team. In 2014, the Patriots claimed their fourth Super Bowl during Kraft's tenure, a total that is most in the league over that span.
My objective in buying the Patriots is to help bring a championship to New England."
-ROBERT KRAFT, JAN. 21, 1994
INSTALLING HIS VISION
It didn't take long for Kraft's vision to come into focus. His personal investment in the team restored the faith of Patriots fans and rejuvenated interest throughout New England. The year he bought the team, season ticket sales soared to new heights, eclipsing 40,000 for the first time in franchise history. By the start of his first season, every game was sold out, a feat that had never been accomplished in the franchise's previous 34 seasons. The achievement ensured that local broadcast blackouts would be lifted and every Patriots game, home and away, would be televised throughout New England for the first time in team history. Since then, every game has been sold out.
The transformation of the Patriots under Kraft's leadership constitutes one of the greatest long-term, worst-to-first revivals in sports history. After winning back-to-back Super Bowls and three titles in four years, Forbes magazine named the Patriots “The Best Team in Sports” in 2005.
In 2007, the New England Patriots won a then franchise-record fifth consecutive division title. They also became the first NFL team to win 16 games during the regular season and the only team to ever win 18 consecutive games in one season. The undefeated regular season boosted the team's regular season record from 2003 to 2007 to 66-14 for a remarkable .825 winning percentage. The 66 regular-season wins in that span is the most by any team over any five-year stretch in NFL history. Additionally, from Oct. 5, 2003 to Nov. 8, 2008, the Patriots won 81 games with only 19 losses, matching the most successful 100-game stretch since the league was founded in 1920.
The Kraft-era Patriots also set three significant NFL records for consecutive wins. From 2003-04, the Patriots won 21 consecutive games, including playoffs. From 2006-08, the Patriots won 21 consecutive regular-season games. Additionally, the Patriots established an NFL record by winning 10 consecutive playoff games (2001-05). During that time, the Patriots also won 21 consecutive games at Gillette Stadium, the longest home win streak in franchise history.
The success the Patriots sustained during the first decade of the new millennium is without rival. The Patriots' 126 total victories (including playoffs) was the most by any team in one decade in the 96-year history of the NFL. The recent decade of dominance featured more Super Bowl titles (3), conference titles (4), division titles (7), playoff wins (14), victories in a single season (18) and victories in a regular season (16) than any other team. In addition, no other NFL team hosted more playoff games (9) or played in more playoff games (18) than the New England Patriots. The sustained success earned the franchise “Team of the Decade” acclaim from many publications.
GETTING HIS START
Kraft began his business career with the Rand-Whitney Group, Inc. of Worcester, Mass., a company that converted paper into packaging for various industries. He later acquired the company. In 1972, he founded International Forest Products, a trader of paper commodities that now does business annually in more than 90 countries. Together, Rand-Whitney and International Forest Products (IFP) comprise one of the largest privately-owned and fully integrated paper and packaging companies in the United States. In 2015, IFP was the top U.S. containerized exporter in New England and ranked sixth in the nation.
Kraft founded the Kraft Group to serve as the holding company for the family's diverse business interests, which are concentrated in six specific areas: the distribution of forest products, paper and packaging manufacturing, sports and entertainment, real estate development and private equity and venture investing, sustainability and philanthropy.
Throughout Kraft's professional career, many of his biggest risks have yielded the greatest rewards. That was true throughout his pursuit of Patriots ownership, beginning in 1985 when he first purchased an option on the land surrounding the old stadium in Foxborough, Mass. It was a large investment for an underdeveloped parcel of land, but proved to be an important first step in a long process toward buying the Patriots. In 1988, he took another step by purchasing the stadium out of bankruptcy court. With a binding lease through 2001, the acquisition of the old stadium proved to be an invaluable asset in Kraft's quest toward owning the team.
When his opportunity came to buy the team in January of 1994, Kraft faced a difficult business dilemma. He had to decide between committing over $172 million of family resources to purchase the Patriots or accept a lucrative $75 million buyout offer to void the final years of the team's stadium lease and allow the team to move out of New England. On Jan. 21, 1994, Kraft passed on the buyout offer, choosing instead to make an 11th-hour bid to buy the team. On Feb. 26, 1994, a day after Kraft earned league approval, season tickets for the 1994 season went on sale and Patriots fans showed their support for Kraft's decision in record numbers. By the end of the first business day, amidst a winter nor'easter, 5,958 season ticket orders were processed, shattering the previous single-day sales record of 979. The show of support validated Kraft's decision to buy the team and gave him the confidence to focus on another long-term project with great financial risk: the private-financing and construction of Gillette Stadium.
In his first year of ownership, the Patriots won their final seven regular-season games to qualify for the postseason, ending an eight-year playoff drought. By his fifth anniversary as owner, under the direction of two different head coaches, the Patriots had already established themselves as perennial playoff contenders, qualifying for the postseason four times, including twice as division champions. In 1996, the Patriots claimed their first division title in 10 years. After defeating Pittsburgh in the playoffs that year, the Patriots hosted their first conference championship game in franchise history and defeated Jacksonville, 20-6, to advance to Super Bowl XXXI.
From 2000 to 2002, the Kraft Group's construction and real estate development team oversaw the on-time and on-budget construction of Gillette Stadium, a privately-financed $325 million facility and the only one of its kind to be financed without the burden of personal seat license fees charged to season ticket members. The financial commitment from Kraft provided a solid foundation on which to build for the first time in the franchise's nomadic history. Moving from Foxboro Stadium into the majestic Gillette Stadium marked another worst-to-first transformation for the Krafts, who now operate New England's premier entertainment venue. After opening Gillette Stadium, Kraft was recognized as the Sports Executive of the Year by one national publication and he and Jonathan Kraft were named Sports Industrialists of the Year by another.
The construction of Gillette Stadium was the first project of the Kraft Group's development team. In 2007, the Kraft Group expanded the development of the site with the construction of Patriot Place, a mixed-use lifestyle center and entertainment destination.
LOVE OF SPORTS
Kraft is widely recognized as one of the most successful owners in professional sports. His long-standing support of soccer in the United States dates back to his efforts in the early 1990s to secure Foxborough as one of the nine host venues for the 1994 FIFA World Cup and becoming a principal investor in Major League Soccer when he founded the New England Revolution in 1995.
As Chairman and CEO of the New England Patriots, Investor/Operator of the New England Revolution and owner of Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place, Kraft has turned that underdeveloped parcel of land he purchased in 1985 in Foxborough, Mass. into a world-class sports and entertainment destination in New England.
Under Kraft's leadership, the Patriots and the Revolution have delivered four league championships, 12 conference titles, as well as a U.S. Open Cup and a SuperLiga title, while his private-financing of Gillette Stadium has given fans a world-class facility in which to enjoy New England's championship tradition.
A native of Brookline, Mass., Kraft attended local public schools before entering Columbia University on an academic scholarship. Upon graduation, he received a fellowship to attend Harvard Business School, where he earned a master's degree in business administration.
Kraft's love for football and the Patriots began decades ago. A Patriots fan since their AFL days in the 1960s, Kraft attended games at each of the team's Boston venues: Boston University Field, Fenway Park, Boston College Alumni Stadium and Harvard Stadium. When the team moved to then Schaefer Stadium in 1971, Kraft invested in season tickets for his family. He credits the memories and experiences shared with his family and other Patriots fans during those years for his passionate pursuit of ownership of the franchise.
In addition to serving on several NFL owner committees, Kraft also serves on the board of directors for Apollo Global Management and the Apollo Theater as well as the board of trustees for Carnegie Hall. He is on the executive committee and board of trustees for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where he established the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center. He is a member of the executive committee of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership. Kraft is a trustee emeritus at Columbia and has received honorary degrees from several colleges and universities, most recently from Yeshiva University in New York City. He 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.” In 2011, Kraft received the Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award as well as the prestigious honor of being inducted into the 231st class of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation's oldest and most learned societies. With his induction, he joined the likes of many other patriots, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and John Hancock. In 2012, he became the first NFL owner in the 44-year history of the George Halas Award to ever receive the honor, which is presented annually to the NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed. That year, he was also inducted into Columbia's athletic hall of fame. In 2013, he received the Carnegie Hall Medal of Excellence. Over the past five decades, the Kraft family has been one of New England's most philanthropic families, donating hundreds of millions of dollars in support of local charities, civic affairs and health care. In 2011, the Krafts pledged $25 million to Partners HealthCare to launch the Kraft Center for Community Health, an initiative designed to improve the leadership of and access to quality health care at community centers in Massachusetts. The Krafts also committed $20 million to Harvard Business School to establish an endowment for the advancement of precision medicine. In 2015, Kraft and the Patriots partnered with the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to launch a high school anti-violence education initiative. In its pilot year, the Game Change program provided training in violence prevention for students, faculty and coaches in nearly 100 high schools statewide. By the end of the 2016-17 school year, more than 1,100 individuals will have received formal training to lead anti-violence programs in their schools.