This Thursday, the Kraft family will be at Rice University for the groundbreaking ceremony of Kraft Hall, a Social Sciences building named in honor of Rice University alumnus Patricia Lipoma Kraft ‘87 and her husband Jonathan. However, Mrs. Kraft isn’t Rice’s only connection to the Kraft family. Mai Pham ‘19, has worked, corresponded, and developed a unique relationship with the Kraft family over the past decade.
As an avid Patriots fan, Pham noticed how team owner Robert Kraft took an active role in interacting with fans and the community, even taking it largely upon himself to help end the 2011 NFL lockout. According to Pham, it was this kind of prominence that led her to recognize Kraft in downtown Denver while she was in town for a Patriots game in 2011.
“I think that that exposure made me, as a fan, recognize who he was and realize the importance that he had for the team and NFL,” Pham, who is double majoring in Sport Management and Economics, said. “I was able to talk to him and show my appreciation for the things he'd done for the game and also for the team.”
Pham was not only grateful for Kraft’s role in helping the league, but she was also inspired by his entrepreneurial, self-made success story. Kraft was an example of how one person could help communities through owning a sports team, a position that Pham has long dreamed about holding one day.
“When you're going through your career, you resonate with a lot of leaders and people out there in the business world, so I think that's what made me recognize him as somebody who I looked up to,” Pham said. “I felt like being in that position of responsibility, you could do a lot for your community and also for the league. It's a great platform to have and you can make a huge impact on so many people.”
Following their meeting in Denver, Pham made it her goal to strengthen her relationship with Kraft and always say hello when he came onto the field before games. Her relationship with the Kraft family was further strengthened by a burgeoning family friendship with Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Scarnecchia gave Pham’s resume directly to Kraft, and it was passed to The Kraft Group in 2015, where she landed a position with International Forest Products LLC (IFP) just after graduating high school.
Pham said her decision to apply was inspired by the Patriots’ philosophy of not being afraid to push forward and try new things. While with IFP, Pham had the opportunity to see how the Krafts run a business and to personally meet CEO Daniel Kraft.
“Within the organization itself it was clear that they put a lot of emphasis on the people there, and if it could be done in-house, they did it in-house,” Pham said.
Pham later had an unforgettable experience as a sports fan when the Patriots came to Houston for Super Bowl 51. She was selected as a liaison for the Kraft family as part of the NFL's prestigious "White Glove Program", helping streamline their movement around the city leading up to their epic comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium.
According to Pham, getting to know the Krafts has taught her a lot about the value of the sports industry.
“Sometimes when people talk about sports, they ask, ‘why do we invest so much money, so much time in this?’” Pham said. “But I think the Kraft family showed that there's a lot that can be accomplished in that position. It made me passionate about seeing sports be really good for society, that they can be good if done in the right way.”
For Pham, seeing how the Kraft family values their employees and fans has also revealed the significance of their investment in Kraft Hall at Rice.
“For them to invest in the School of Social Sciences shows that they believe in us,” Pham said. “I don't think it's ever been a name thing for them, but kind of like an investment in the future, in the people they want to see grow.”
Pham will attend the groundbreaking ceremony, but she also wants to see even more development of the relationship between Rice and the Krafts.
“Just like we were recently able to have a large panel discussion with the Houston Astros, maybe we could have one of the Kraft family coming in to do a panel too,” Pham said. “We would really respect learning about their leadership within the industry. I want them to see that we value their time, we value their investment and we want to further that relationship with them.”
Elliot Stahr, a sophomore from Irvine, California, is double majoring in Psychology and Philosophy and is the student writer for the Department of Sport Management.