Donald Bren was born on May 11, 1932, in Los Angeles, California. His father Milton was a naval officer, talent agent, real estate developer, and successful movie producer.
Donald attended the University of Washington, on a skiing scholarship and earned a degree in business administration and economics. After graduation he and then served for three years as an officer in the Marine Corps.
In 1963, he and two others started the Mission Viejo Company (MVC) and purchased 11,000 acres to plan and develop the city of Mission Viejo, California. Donald was President of MVC from 1963 to 1967. International Paper bought Bren Co. for $34 million in 1970, and then sold it back to Donald for $22 million in 1972 following the recession. He took the proceeds and in 1977 joined a group of investors to purchase the 146-year-old Irvine Company,
The historic Irvine Company dates back to 1864, and has been the master planner and master builder of the 93,000 acre Irvine Ranch since 1960. This purchase made him the largest shareholder of the company, owning 34.3% and gave him the title of Vice-chair of the board. By 1983, he was the majority owner of the firm and was elected chairman of the board. By 1996, he bought out all outstanding shares to become the sole owner.
In 2005, OC Weekly wrote that Bren “wields more power than Howard Hughes ever did, probably as much as any man in America over a concentrated region—determining not only how people live and shop but who governs them.” In 2006 the Los Angeles Times said that Orange County looks like Orange County because of Donald Bren. In its 2015 edition of, “The 400 Richest Americans“, Forbes ranked Donald as the wealthiest real estate developer in the US and 30th “Richest American” with an estimated net worth of $15.2 billion. Today, he is number 29 on the Forbes 400 list.
The Irvine Company now owns several hotels, marinas, golf courses, 60,000 apartments, more than 40 shopping centres and 500 office buildings make up the property portfolio, with the majority located in Southern California. .
In 2008, BusinessWeek named Bren one of the top ten philanthropists in the nation, with his contributions to various causes such as education, conservation and research among other areas exceeding $1 billion.