American billionaire businessman Robert Kraft engineered one of the more remarkable turnarounds in professional athletics after purchasing the New England Patriots. When Kraft purchased the NFL team in 1994, the franchise had suffered five consecutive losing seasons. Since then, the team has been to the Super Bowl nine times, emerging as champions on six occasions. Like many team owners, Kraft originally made his money outside of sports.
He began his career with the Rand-Whitney Group, a packaging company he later purchased before acquiring more businesses. Currently, he is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Kraft Group, a diversified holding company with assets in paper and packaging, sports and entertainment, real estate development, and a private equity portfolio. Besides football, he is the owner of Major League Soccer's New England Revolution and Gillette Stadium. He also owns the Boston Uprising, the first esports team in New England. Over the past several decades, the Kraft family has been one of New England's most philanthropic families, donating millions of dollars in support of local charities and civic affairs. Kraft has received several awards, including the Theodore Roosevelt Award and Carnegie Hall Medal of Excellence Award. In 2011 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Kraft's passion for football was no doubt influenced by the time he spent at Columbia University, where he played running back and safety. Arriving in 1959, Kraft was a history and economics major. He was also elected as president of the first-year class and stayed on as class president for the entirety of his college career. During his four years at Columbia, he managed to juggle a full course-load, a part-time job, and even football—earning two letters on the field before an injury ended his playing career during his junior year. In 1963 Kraft graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and economics.
As an alumnus, Kraft has remained active at Columbia, serving as a University trustee for two six-year terms. A 1987 recipient of Columbia's John Jay Award, a 2004 recipient of the Alexander Hamilton Medal, and an inductee into the Columbia Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012, Kraft has kept his hands on his alma mater in nearly every way possible. In 2000, Columbia opened the doors to the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life, the on-campus Hillel of Columbia University, following Kraft's lead gift of nearly $15 million. But while Kraft has donated several million dollars to many different departments in the University, his most significant have been to Columbia Athletics, prompting university leaders to change the name of one campus stadium to the Robert K. Kraft Field. Furthermore, Kraft was instrumental in funding the new $10 million Bubble on Columbia's athletics complex, which now helps provide athletes with an indoor space to continue playing the game that stole Kraft’s heart years ago.