Donald Friese was born in 1940 in York, Pennsylvania, the third of 13 children. After his high school graduation, he joined the U.S. Army in 1958, trained as a missile mechanic, and was stationed in Taiwan and Okinawa.
Friese started at C.R. Laurence in Los Angeles, which then had just one location, with an "entry-level job", as its sixth employee. A few years later, Bernie Harris, the owner, sold him a 10% stake, and he gradually acquired more, eventually buying Harris out when he retired. When Harris retired in 1997, he bought the 50% he did not already own.
In 2015, he sold the company to the Irish conglomerate CRH plc for $1.3 billion cash, retaining most of the real estate and continuing as CEO. It was reported that Friese made $885 million from the sale of the company.
Friese has been married to Andrea for 53 years (as of June 2017), and lives in Chatsworth, Los Angeles. They have a weekend house in Malibu. They have three children.