DAVID Rockefeller, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist who was the last in his generation of one of the country’s most famously philanthropic families, died yesterday. He was 101.
Rockefeller died in his sleep at his home in Pocantico Hills, New York, according to his spokesman Fraser P. Seitel.
He was the grandson of Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller and the youngest of six children born to John D. Rockefeller Jr. With the passing of his siblings, he became the guardian of his family’s fortune and head of a sprawling network of family interests, both business and philanthropic, that ranged from environmental conservation to the arts.
To mark his 100th birthday in 2015, Rockefeller gave 405 hectares of land next to a national park to the state of Maine.
Aspects of the Rockefeller brothers’ upbringing became famous, including the 25-cent allowance, portions of which had to be set aside for charity and savings, and the inculcation that wealth brings great responsibility.
Two of his brothers held elected office: Nelson Rockefeller served as the governor of New York, hungered for the White House and briefly served as vice president. Winthrop Rockefeller was a governor of Arkansas.
David Rockefeller, however, wielded power and influence without ever seeking public office. Among his many accomplishments were spurring the project that led to the World Trade Center.
And unlike his other brothers, John D. III and Laurance, who shied from the spotlight and were known for philanthropy, David Rockefeller embraced business and traveled and spoke widely as a champion of enlightened capitalism.
“American capitalism has brought more benefits to more people than any other system in any part of the world at any time in history,” he said. “The problem is to see that the system is run as efficiently and as honestly as it can be.”
Rockefeller graduated from Harvard in 1936 and received a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago in 1940. He served in the Army during World War II, then began climbing the ranks of management at Chase Bank. That bank merged with The Manhattan Co in 1955.
He was named Chase Manhattan’s president in 1961 and chairman and CEO eight years later. He retired in 1981 at age 65 after a 35-year career.
In his role of business statesman, Rockefeller preached capitalism at home and favored aiding economies abroad on grounds that bringing prosperity to the Third World would create customers for American products.
He parted company with some of his fellow capitalists on income taxes, calling it unseemly to earn US$1 million and then find ways to avoid paying taxes on it. He didn’t say how much he paid in taxes and never spoke publicly about his personal worth. In 2015, Forbes magazine estimated his fortune at US$3 billion.
As one of the Rockefeller grandchildren, David belonged to the last generation in which the inherited family billions were concentrated in a few hands. The next generation, known as “the cousins,” has more people.
Under Rockefeller, Chase — now JPMorgan Chase & Co — was the first US bank to open offices in the Soviet Union and China and, in 1974, the first to open an office in Egypt after the Suez crisis of 1956.
One of the major efforts of Rockefeller’s later years was directed at restoring family influence in the landmark Rockefeller Center in New York, most of which had been sold in the 1980s to Japanese investors. He eventually organized an investor group to buy back 45 percent of the property.