Jewish Journal

Rich in Love

For philanthropist Susan Samueli, family always comes first.

by Rachel Brand

Posted on Mar. 27, 2003 at 7:00 pm

When Susan Samueli met her future husband, Henry, at a dance at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles in 1979, she never could have anticipated how different her life would be today.

That was 24 years and three children ago, before Samueli became a household name in much of Southern California, as Henry co-founded Broadcom, the leading provider in broadband high-speed communications technology. It was way before Broadcom went public, and the Samuelis, with Henry serving as chief technical officer, became multimillionaires nearly overnight.

"It was sort of a shock to all of us," said the 5-foot-10 Susan, dressed in a lightweight ivory sweater and pants as she sat in the family's foundation offices in Corona del Mar. "It was a rush because it came pretty quickly, and we never expected it."

Though much in Samueli's life has changed -- from "normal" in Northridge to a mansion in Orange County with limousines and private planes -- her priorities have not. Her family, her Judaism and her career (she ran an alternative health-care consulting practice until 1995) all guide her new life, just as they did her old one.

As executive director of The Samueli Foundation, Samueli oversees the distribution of the family's philanthropic giving, which totals $140 million to date. While the foundation seems to support diverse causes, from health care to the arts and technology to Judaism, they are all causes and interests important to the couple.

Being a mother, Samueli chooses philanthropic causes that enhance the lives of young people, like Orangewood Children's Foundation, which provides services to families of abused and neglected children and offers a supportive community for the children.

"I'm a mom and the thought of anyone abusing their children is beyond anyone's imagination," said Samueli, who chairs a subgroup, 44 Women for Children, which raises $100,000 a year for emancipated youth.

Samueli's three daughters are her top priority. When the family first moved to Orange County, Samueli quit her practice to raise the kids, knowing that Henry would be working very long hours.

"She's probably responsible for everything," said Henry, who, according to Forbes magazine, is in his late 40s. "Without her support, I never could have achieved what I have done. It's been a huge sacrifice on the family, and she's had to pick up the slack, and I'm very thankful to her for doing that."

Although her children are now older, Samueli continues to make sure that she is home when they return from school, and she continues to be very involved in their daily lives.

"I'm a typical Jewish mom, and it's fun to spoil them and buy them clothes. But I try to give them a sense of value in being a good person ... being honest and being nice."

She often talks with her two oldest children, who grew up in Northridge, about the drastic change that they have witnessed in the past eight years.

"It's a lot of responsibility to know that you have this much and to know how to handle it properly. It's not going to be easy for them," Susan said. "I sometimes feel a little bit sad for them, because when I was dating, it never occurred to me to wonder if Henry was interested in me for me or my money. Even when they have girlfriends, they have to decide if the kids want them for the money or for themselves, and they really do have to understand their friends."

When her children were young and developed side effects to traditional antibiotics, Samueli acquired an interest in alternative health care. She pursued her interest in nutrition, homeopathy and Chinese herbs and received a doctorate in nutrition from the American Holistic College of Nutrition in 1993 and a diploma in homeopathy from the British Institute of Homeopathy in 1994. This was in addition to her bachelor's degree in mathematics from UC Berkeley and 13 years at IBM as both a staff programmer and a systems engineer.

Today, Samueli has relinquished her consulting responsibilities but continues to contribute to the advancement of complementary medicine. Through their foundation, the Samuelis endowed $5 million to create a center for alternative medicine at the UC Irvine School of Medicine, which bears Susan Samueli's name. In 2001, the foundation also established the Samueli Institute, which aims to apply the scientific rigor of traditional medicine to the field of alternative medicine.

Samueli's interest in health care is matched by her husband's passion for technology.

"But we have a common interest in Judaism," Henry said.

Raised in the Valley, Susan Samueli was always immersed in the activities of an active Jewish community.

"It was very different where I went to high school at Grant. During the High Holidays, the campus was empty. Of course, everyone was ditching who wasn't Jewish, too," Samueli said. But when the Samuelis moved to Orange County, a community where there are an estimated 60,000 Jews, only 15 percent of whom are affiliated, she wanted to make sure that her children had the same opportunities that she did.

The Samuelis maintain their Judaism at home, lighting Shabbat candles and celebrating the Jewish holidays. Outside their home, the couple is helping to build an Orange County Jewish community -- literally.

In the spring of 2001, the Samuelis bought 20 acres of land adjacent to the already existing Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School for $20 million. The site, overlooking the hills and valleys of much of Orange County and directly opposite UC Irvine, will be the future site of the Samueli Campus. The campus currently provides both elementary and high school education. The second phase of the building project includes a full-service Jewish Community Center with a fitness center, pool, theater and auditorium and facilities to house the Jewish agencies of Orange County. Groundbreaking will begin when the $20 million campaign goal is reached. (Approximately 80 percent of phase two has been raised.)

The couple has also been instrumental in the construction of two Orange County synagogues and recently funded a synagogue in a suburb of Tel Aviv. They also give extensively to the Bureau of Jewish Education, Jewish Family Services, the Jewish Federation of Orange County and Morasha Jewish Day School.

Although much has changed for the Samuelis since they met at a temple dance in 1979, their personal philosophy has not.

"Money should not change the person you are, your beliefs and your values," Henry said. "You have to maintain your value structure and not let the money corrupt."  

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