While homebuilding was a lucrative business, it was also a volatile one. So Broad began looking to acquire a more stable company to diversify the business. He found it in the life insurance industry.
"I said let's look at an acquisition of something that survived the Great Depression," he said. "Banks failed. Savings and loans failed. Mortgage companies failed. Homebuilders failed. But life insurance companies did pretty well."
Broad's next Fortune 500 company was built from Sun Life Insurance Company of America, a Baltimore-based old-line life insurance company that he acquired in 1971 for about $52 million.
Again, Broad steered the company off the beaten path. About a year or two in, he asked: "What's the future? Why don't we find a niche?" They found it in retirement savings.
Broad transformed the business into SunAmerica, a retirement-savings powerhouse acquired in 1999 by insurance giant American International Group for a sale price of nearly $18 billion.
After selling SunAmerica, Broad started devoting more time to philanthropy. Today, the Broad Foundations, including the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Broad Art Foundation, have assets of $2.1 billion. Their mission is to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts.
Broad is also a major force in the modern art world, owning personally or through his foundation around 2,000 pieces of art.
He owes his success to having the courage and the foresight to go his own way.
"People who just accept the status quo and conventional wisdom don't make a difference in the world," Broad said. "It's those that challenge [it] and do things differently who advance."