Cap­i­tal­ism’s great emis­sary dur­ing the cold war

Financial Times Middle East - - Companies - David Rock­e­feller Banker-phi­lan­thropist 1915-2017

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

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