John A. Sobrato & Family
John A. Sobrato & Family
Amount donated: In excess of $350m
Philanthropic Causes: Community care, homelessness, technology, education, health
Region of philanthropic focus: San Francisco
Net Worth: £4.6bn ($6.7bn) according to Forbes April 2016
Source of wealth: Real estate
The name ‘Silicon Valley’ conjures a host of names; Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg etc. But ask any insider and the chances are there will be another name, one thats influence percolates modestly beneath the surface. That is Sobrato. The Sobrato family have been recycling their wealth within the area since the 1950s and their stamp on the community and technology industry is everywhere. They own over 7.5m square feet of office space there, plus 0ver 6,000 apartments. Their time spent researching local issues and providing solutions is relentless, as they plan to donate the lion’s share of their fortune to these causes.
The beginnings of the journey were humble. John Mossimo Sobrato from Suza, Italy was wounded during WWI, after being enlisted as a teen. No longer fit for warfare, he stayed on as a military cook. As it turned out, Sobrato was an excellent cook and was encouraged to seek similar work in America. He did just this, starting up his own restaurant – ‘John’s Rendezvous‘, which grew in popularity, changed locations multiple times and expanded until it became the largest and finest restaurant in 40s San Francisco. Following his success, John went back to his hometown to find a wife, which he did so in a young Italian lady named Ann, who as a three year old lost her mother to tuberculosis. With Ann unable to speak any English, they moved back to the States, to a house in San Francisco’s Marina district. In 1952 John M. Sobrato died. Ann sold the restaurant for $75,000 and began pumping the money into real estate – and the Sobrato family never looked back.
Ann – once a young girl from a small coal mining town grieving the tragic early loss of her mother- became renowned as the ‘Mother of Silicon Valley’. Given her later philanthropic endeavors in local veterans hospitals, soup kitchens and other local non-profit foundations, this title couldn’t be more appropriate, and there is a reason why four generations of the Sobrato family have now worked hard to preserve this tradition.
The real ascent into fortune was via the efforts of their son John A. Sobrato, who took the reigns from his mother investing in real estate whilst still at college at Santa Clara University. It is said that he would arrange his classes so he could work three days a week on property. Clearly thirsty for success, in 1960 he graduated and founded Midtown Realty which dealt mainly with residential home re-sales, but he and his mother Ann both knew where the real money was. They began investing in more and more commercial properties in the not-yet-blossoming Southern San Francisco Bay Area, ten years before it had earned the name ‘Silicon Valley’.
In 1974 John A. Sobrato sold Midtown Realty to concentrate on providing for the booming technology industry. In 1979 he founded The Sobrato Organization, which gave them a solid base from which to conduct their investments. As an investor who had watched Silicon Valley grow from its modest beginnings into an innovative tech hub, it had a solid place in his heart and it was this passion for the area, combined with the inspiration of his mother, which caused John to focus on the wider operations of the area, seeking to help those less fortunate than him. He started to focus less on the accumulation of wealth and more on the distribution of it, using his property expertise as a platform.
To free him up for more philanthropy John A. Sobrato moved to Board Chairman, allowing his son John Michael Sobrato to take over as CEO. The two of them signed Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge. To allow further organisation to their donations, daughter Lisa Sobrato Sonsini founded the Sobrato Family Foundation, which has donated over $300m in money and property to establishments such as the Santa Clara University and the Bellermine College Preparatory.
Despite having three children, five grandsons and two granddaughters, John and wife Sue still dedicate time as well as money to these causes, visiting schools and embarking on tours of homeless areas. This dedication ensures the “Mother of Silicon Valley” flag is still flying high above the Sobrato family and their tireless endeavors.