Capitalism’s great emissary during the cold war
David Rockefeller, who has died aged 101, was the last of a breed. An old-style banker-statesman, her an Chase Manhattanat the height of its power inaner a before bond traders came to dominate the world of international finance. A philanthropist with a keen sense of civic duty, he left his mark on a wide range of institutions and the Manhattan skyline.
Born on June 12 1915, he became the most eminent third-generation member of the dynasty founded on John D Rockefeller's Standard Oil fortune. He was the youngest of the five sons of John D Jr (there was also a daughter). And while Nelson became a celebrated governor of New York state, it was David who left the deepest impression in business and public life.
In the 1960s and 1970s, he came to be seen by many as the leading emissary for western capitalism. In the developing world and behind the iron curtain, he was habitually greeted as though he was a head of state.
As he said of a 1964 meeting with Nikita Khrushchev: “The Soviets would rather deal with what they consider to be a real capitalist than somebody they think is a parlour pink. Furthermore, they believe their own propaganda and think I really run the country .”
The constant travelling and personal contacts — Rockefeller is said to have met 200 heads of state in 40 years — undoubtedly helped open the world for Chase and other US banks. But his frequent tours were motivated as much by Rockefeller’s desire to promote understanding between nations. As a former colleague at Chase put it: “He was an internationalist first and an international banker second .”
David joined the family bank at the age of 30 and with a doctorate in economics. From his family estate on the banks of the Hudson river, the Chase chairman lived the life of a financial potentate, entertaining visiting heads of state and financiers.
After private meetings with Khrush- chev and China’s Zhou Enlai, Chase became the first US bank to open a representative office in Moscow and establish a correspondent relationship with state-controlled Bank of China.
Rockefeller helped the former Shah of Iran find a home in exile after the 1979 revolution and later to enter the US for medical treatment—an event that led to the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran and along host age crisis.
The life of an international statesman did not always sit comfortably with the responsibilities of a modern bank executive, and Chase performed poorly in the early 1970s.
After the discovery that a $33m bond trading loss had been covered up, he promoted Willard Butcher to take charge of the bank’s day-to-day affairs.
Rockefeller also left his mark on New York. While his father had created the landmark Rockefeller Center and brother John D III the Lincoln Center for the performing arts, David produced One Chase Plaza, one of the earliest downtown office towers.
He was instrumental, with his governor brother, in forming a coalition of business interests that gave birth to the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Rockefeller had a mild, soft-spoken manner and exhibited an ability to live sensibly with vast wealth.
He was predeceased by his son Richard and his wife Peggy. Richard Waters