Humanitarian Awards 2008

Mr. David Merage

April 6, 2008

David Merage immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1968. David always knew he was destined to be an entrepreneur. In 1977, with absolutely no experience in the food industry and equipped only with ambition, drive, and the support of his brother and father, he co-founded Chef America, Inc., a frozen food manufacturer of products such as “Hot Pocket.” In 1983, Hot Pockets were introduced to retail supermarkets and, within a short time, became a household staple and created a new convenience food culture.
As the company achieved annual growth rates of 15 percent per year, over 200 products emerged. With $750 million in sales, Chef America had substantial economic impact and became known as one of the most profitable and well-run companies in the food industry. Additionally, the company created a considerable workforce-employing 1,900 associates in three states, and generating over 6,000 national jobs through their supply chain. Nestlé purchased Chef America, Inc. in 2002.

Business: Today, David Merage is Chairman and CEO of Consolidated Investment Group (CIG), a Denver-based investment firm, focusing on Wall Street and real estate investments. CIG holds one of the most diverse portfolios in the country in terms of product type and geography. At CIG, Mr. Merage has created a culture that fosters an environment of respect, integrity and tolerance of others. This culture encourages creativity while embracing challenges and focusing on achieving results.

Philanthropy: By incorporating real business experience combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, David and his wife Laura set off to develop projects intensely focused on benefiting society. Over the last 14 years, the Merage Foundations have positively impacted tens of thousands of people’s lives domestically and globally.

David and Laura Merage Foundation: David and Laura Merage Foundation is centered on the belief that education is the gateway to optimal life outcomes. While the Foundation is active in many initiatives, it concentrates its efforts in three primary areas: Early Childhood Education, Arts and Culture, and Merage Israel.

Early Childhood Education – The Foundation is leading Early Learning Ventures, an initiative to enrich education for children ages birth to five years old. Early Learning Ventures is building a network of high-performing child care providers and, thereby, making quality child care more accessible to U.S. families. David Merage is also leading an effort to engage business leaders in early childhood education advocacy. He is a founding partner of EPIC–Executives Partnering to Invest in Children.

Arts and Culture – The David and Laura Merage Foundation invests in public and private arts organizations throughout the country. With Laura’s leadership, the organization is also developing a vibrant art incubator in Denver, Colorado called RedLine. Providing access to master artists, collectors and the art world in general, RedLine sets the stage for emerging and mid-career artists to take their business and craft to the next level. Laura is now leading RedLine International, a nonprofit dedicated to the global expansion of the RedLine model.

Community Development – In 2013, David and Laura Merage established Equitas, a foundation dedicated to ensuring that law enforcement and the justice system are fully informed, empowered and engaged to proactively address the needs of people with mental disorders and hidden mental challenges in the criminal justice system.

Merage Israel – In 2000, David, Laura and Katherine Merage began their philanthropic work in Israel and currently support twelve regional staff members. Over the years, more than 20,000 individuals have benefited from the Merage philanthropic investment in educational and cultural programs. Their work today is focused on supporting the future of Israel in the Negev region, with over 40 simultaneous projects and 200 partners aligned to promote the Negev as the future of Israel with the objective of educating the world through business outreach and marketing.

David was born in Tehran, Iran in 1949 as one of five children to Andre and Katherine Merage. He and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing from California State University. David is married to Laura Merage and they have two children.