HONORARY TRUSTEE, SANFORD BURNHAM
PREBYS MEDICAL DISCOVERY INSTITUTE
Civic leader Malin Burnham has devoted more than 40 years to raising San Diego’s profile on the world stage, from championing its cross-border economy with Mexico to helping to build its biomedical and life sciences community. The 89-year-old former real estate developer and competitive sailor’s proudest achievement has been his work to develop the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP), which focuses on concerns from cancer to age-related diseases.
“I’ve received so much satisfaction seeing what’s come out of that organization that helps save and extend lives, and gives better quality of life to people,” Burnham says. He began his involvement with the La Jolla–based institute with a $10 million donation in 1996, then built on that gift by getting other wealthy donors, including fellow property developer Conrad Prebys and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, to give hundreds of millions more. SBP has developed a number of breakthrough treatments, including a new drug, developed with the city’s Salk Institute, that prevents cancer cells from growing.
“I love leadership,” says Burnham, who recently released a memoir, Community Before Self: Seventy Years of Making Waves. But he emphasizes the importance of collaboration. “I’ve never accomplished anything of any magnitude by myself.”
Though he sold all his businesses in 1986, Burnham maintains a disciplined 50-hour-a-week schedule dedicated to his nonprofit work—all with one ultimate goal: “I want to make San Diego a better place,” he says.