15 Million Reasons to be Grateful

Silicon Valley philanthropist and real estate developer John A. Sobrato and his wife, Susan, have pledged $15 million to USF, the largest gift from individuals in the university’s history.

The record-breaking gift will support USF’s first-ever master plan for athletic facilities, renovate the 60-year-old War Memorial Gymnasium, and help USF uphold its tradition of excellence in Division I athletics.

“As a real estate developer, I like to build things,” Sobrato said. “When I saw War Memorial Gym, I asked myself: Why don’t we modernize this building, bring in the natural light, and make it a much more inviting place not only for athletics but also for all campus events? It’s going to be a great-looking building when we’re done.”

The renovated, multi-use facility will be named the Sobrato Center, and will feature a new club level with preferred seating that also bears the Sobrato name. The center will play a central role in the life of the university, bringing together students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the San Francisco community for athletics and other major campus events.

The building has witnessed some of USF’s most celebrated athletic victories and notable events, including the visits of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012 and the Dalai Lama in 2003.

“We are deeply grateful to John and Sue for their remarkable generosity and philanthropic leadership,” said USF President Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. “They are truly men and women for others. Their commitment to giving back, to Jesuit education, and to building community has set a new standard not just here at USF but far beyond.”

“This extraordinary gift will transform our athletic facility into a stunning, modern center,” said USF Athletics Director Scott Sidwell. “It will help us go beyond winning at the highest levels of competition, and also play an important role in the intellectual and moral development of our student athletes.”

The Sobrato Center will play a central role in the life of the university.
Courtesy of Ornberger + Worstell Architects.

Sobrato has played a leading role in building Silicon Valley, first as a successful residential broker and later as the founder of one of California’s most successful real estate development firms. The Sobrato Organization has developed more than 15 million square feet of commercial real estate in the South Bay, including the headquarters for both Apple Inc. and Netflix, and also owns commercial properties and apartment communities.

The Sobratos have long been among Silicon Valley’s most generous philanthropists, and have made a commitment to give away 100 percent of their wealth during their lifetimes.

During the past two decades, the Sobrato family has given nearly $315 million to support education, economic opportunities, and essential human services. “Many people don’t have the needed skills and education to succeed in today’s economy, or have other challenges that hold them back,” Sobrato said.

One of the couples’ education initiatives, the Sobrato Early Academic Language program, now operates in 60 schools and serves 40,000 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade.

The Sobratos also played a key role in bringing a new health clinic to East Palo Alto, the $35 million Ravenswood Family Health Center.

For their work and generosity, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group awarded them its Lifetime Achievement Award in October.

“Most of our family has been touched by Jesuit education,” Sobrato said. “We were taught the concept of giving back. And you have a social responsibility to give back some of your success.”

We were taught the concept of giving back,” said John Sobrato, shown here with his wife, Susan.