Robert Kraft, founder, chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group and owner of the New England Patriots, last week delivered the keynote address and received an honorary doctorate at Yeshiva University’s 85th Commencement Ceremony.
Kraft told his audience that their warm welcome is “not the reception I typically get when entering sports arenas in New York.”
In keeping with his new doctorate, Kraft cited rabbinic teachings: “One of my father’s favorite teachings was from Pirkei Avot (Chapters of the Fathers): Ben Zoma taught ‘eizehu ashir? hasameach bechelko’ — who is rich? The person who is happy with their portion (Avot 4:1).”
“What do people want in life?” Kraft continued, “They want to feel connected; to do something larger than themselves… That sense of being connected applies to great sports teams like the Patriots and the Minnesota Vikings [whose owners, Mark and Zygmunt ‘Zygi’ Wilf, both on the YU board, were also present], it applies to great universities like Yeshiva [University], and it applies to the State of Israel.”
“I’m not a Starbucks guy. I’m a Dunkin Donuts guy, but I like to pay for the coffee of the other folks behind me in line,” Kraft revealed. “It typically costs me less than $10 and makes the other people feel good, but more importantly it makes me feel so good, and random acts of kindness change the world one person at a time.”
Kraft said that his dream has been owning the New England Patriots: “A number of factors made that dream wildly improbable,” he noted. “No. 1: I didn’t come from money. No. 2: I had no connection to the world of professional sports or the people in it. No. 3: Some of the greatest NFL teams are never sold. … Yet I used to sit in the stands of the old Foxboro Stadium with my sons on Sunday afternoon, and it struck me how the team was mismanaged,” he said. “Sitting there in the stands, I would dream of what our family would do if we only had a chance to own the team. As I said, it was wildly improbable that we would get to own it, but not impossible.”
Kraft also revealed his private religious feelings: “The best things we do, the businesses we build, the people we help, the championships we win, the tzedakah (charity) we give, and the communities we strengthen, are truly a gift from God. My father left me an ethical will. In that will he told me something that I think about, literally, every day of my life. He said: ‘At the end of every day, as we lay our head on our pillow, we should ask ourselves a simple question: are the people you touched today richer and better for having known you?’ Go forward from here, my friends, and make people’s lives richer and better because they have known all of you.”