David Rockefeller

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David Rockefeller

David Rockefeller (born 1915), son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was the chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank and became one of the most prominent bankers in the world.

David Rockefeller, the fifth and youngest son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was born in New York City on June 12, 1915. He received his elementary and secondary education at the Lincoln School of Columbia University's Teachers College. He graduated from Harvard University in 1936 with a B.S. in English history and literature and later did post-graduate work in economics at Harvard and at the London School of Economics. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1940. Rockefeller's doctoral dissertation, Unused Resources and Economic Waste, was published in 1941 by the University of Chicago Press.

In September 1940 Rockefeller married Margaret McGrath, and the couple eventually had six children: David, Abby, Neva, Margaret, Richard, and Eileen. To gain experience in city government, Rockefeller worked without salary for 18 months in 1940 and 1941 as one of 60 "interns" in New York City. He served as secretary to Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia. Rockefeller then became assistant regional director of the U.S. Office of Defense Health and Welfare Services in New York State. In 1942, after American entry into World War II, he joined the U.S. Army, enlisting as a private. In 1943 he attended the Engineer Corps Officers Training School and received further training in military intelligence. He served in North Africa and France, including six months as assistant military attache in Paris. He left the Army with the rank of captain in 1945 and was awarded the Italian Order of Merit, the French Legion of Honor, and the U.S. Legion of Honor.

Entry Into Business World

Rockefeller enjoyed politics and might have returned to it after the war, but instead decided to seek experience in business. In 1946 he joined the Chase National Bank, of which his maternal uncle, Winthrop W. Aldrich, had been chairman since 1933. Rockefeller began his banking career as assistant manager in the foreign department and rose to assistant cashier, second vice president, and vice president by 1949. As supervisor of the bank's business in Latin America he opened new branches in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Panama and in 1950 established a quarterly economic publication, Latin American Business Highlights. Rockefeller's interest in foreign affairs in general and in Latin America in particular were reflected in his involvement in the Council for Foreign Relations and the Center for Inter-American Relations.

In 1951 Rockefeller became senior vice president and assumed responsibility for customer relations in the New York City area and for the economic research department. When Chase merged with the Bank of Manhattan in 1955, he was made executive vice president and given responsibility for the bank's development department. In 1956 he became chairman of the new New York Chamber of Commerce Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment (now Downtown Manhattan Association, Inc.), concerned with the redevelopment of lower Manhattan. He was intimately involved in the bank's decision to remain and build a new headquarters in the area. In 1957 Rockefeller was promoted to vice chairman of the board with the responsibility for the overall administration and planning of the bank. He also served as vice president of Chase International Investment Corporation, a foreign financing subsidiary of the bank. In 1961 Rockefeller was made chairman of the board of Chase Manhattan Bank, a position he held for 20 years. He served simultaneously as president and chairman of the executive committee from 1961 to 1968 and as chief executive officer from 1969 to 1980. During the most active part of his career Rockefeller found time to write a book about his profession, Creative Management in Banking (1964), and to form the International Executive Service Corps, a group of volunteers who provide technical and managerial assistance to businesses in developing countries. He became a familiar figure to ministers and heads of state of various countries around the world and to heads of multinational corporations.

In 1981 Rockefeller retired from active management, but he remained as chairman of the international advisory committee and continued many of his outside activities. He served as chairman of the Americas Society, an umbrella group which coordinates the activities of a number of cultural, educational, and economic organizations concerned with the development of Latin America. Rockefeller was chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and North American chairman of the Trilateral Commission, which he helped found in 1973 to promote understanding and cooperation between North America, Western Europe, and Japan. He also helped establish the Council of the Americas.

Philanthropic and Family Obligations

Rockefeller was a director of several corporations, including B. F. Goodrich, Punta Alegre Sugar Corp., and American Overseas Finance Corp. With his brothers, he was also active in the family's philanthropic organizations, it has been said that he held a strong feeling of obligation to the public. In 1940 Rockefeller became a trustee of the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research (now Rockefeller University), founded by his grandfather, and he was elected its first chairman in 1953. He was a director of Rockefeller Center and a member of its executive committee, chairman of the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Brother's Fund, and a trustee and vice chairman of the executive committee of the Museum of Modern Art, which was founded by his mother. He also served as a life trustee of the University of Chicago and served for several terms on the board of overseers of Harvard University, including a term as chairman of the executive committee.

Trouble With Rockefeller Center

In 1995 Rockefeller at age 80, fought to preserve his family ties to Rockefeller Center. The Rockefeller Group, Inc. sold 80% of the Center to Japan's Mitsubishi Estate Co. in 1989 for $1.4 billion. David Rockefeller was against the sale, but was outvoted by the trustees. In 1995 when Mitsubishi was threatening to declare bankruptcy of the Center, Rockefeller resigned as chairman of the Rockefeller Group and gathered investors to make a bid for part of the property. This new group, including Rockefeller and Goldman Sachs & Co., eventually paid $1.2 billion for their share in the Center, bringing at least part of the Center back into the family.

Rockefeller has been described as representing the end of an era, as the Rockefeller family becomes more numerous. Rockefeller himself stated in a 1995 New York Times interview, "When a family multiplies the way ours has, it's hard to maintain the identity over time." He also stated that he "would like to be thought of as having seen that there was an important role for the private sector in world affairs and cooperating with governments for the benefit of both sides."

He has received honorary degrees from several universities and in 1994 was awarded the Hadrian Award of the World Mathematics Fund.

Further Reading

There is only one published biography, by William Hoffman, David (1971), but several studies of the Rockefeller family contain information on David Rockefeller, the best of which is Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty (1976). Another informative source is a profile from the New York Times, "Last of the Big Time Rockefellers: A Profile of David Rockefeller (12/10/95). □