He was noted for his wide-ranging political connections and foreign travel, in which he met with many foreign leaders. His fortune was estimated at $3.3 billion at the time of his death in March 2017.
After completing his studies in Chicago
, he became secretary to New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia
for eighteen months in a "dollar a year" public service position. Although the mayor pointed out to the press that Rockefeller was only one of 60 interns in the city government, his working space was, in fact, the vacant office of the deputy mayor.
From 1941 to 1942, Rockefeller was assistant regional director of the United States Office of Defense, Health and Welfare Services.
David Rockefeller and Jawad Hashim from Iraq in 1980.
In 1946, Rockefeller joined the staff of the longtime family-associated Chase National Bank.
The chairman at that time was Rockefeller's uncle Winthrop W. Aldrich
The Chase Bank was primarily a wholesale bank,
dealing with other prominent financial institutions and major corporate clients such as General Electric
(which had, through its RCA
affiliate, leased prominent space and become a crucial first tenant of Rockefeller Center
in 1930). The bank also is closely associated with and has financed the oil industry
, having longstanding connections with its board of directors to the successor companies of Standard Oil, especially Exxon Mobil
. Chase National became the Chase Manhattan Bank
and shifted significantly into consumer banking. It is now called JPMorgan Chase
Rockefeller started as an assistant manager in the foreign department. There he financed international trade in a number of commodities, such as coffee, sugar and metals. This position also maintained relationships with more than 1,000 correspondent banks throughout the world. He served in other positions and became president in 1960. He was both chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan from 1969 to 1980 and remained chairman until 1981. He was also, as recently as 1980, the single largest individual shareholder of the bank, holding 1.7% of its shares.
During his term as CEO, Chase spread internationally and became a central component of the world's financial system due to its global network of correspondent banks, the largest in the world. In 1973, Chase established the first branch of an American bank in Moscow, in the then Soviet Union
. That year Rockefeller traveled to China, resulting in his bank becoming the National Bank of China's first correspondent bank in the U.S.
Also during this period, Chase Manhattan expanded its influence over many non-financial corporations. A 1979 study titled "The Significance of Bank Control over Large Corporations"
provided an estimate for which large U.S.-based financial institutions had the most control over other corporations. The study finds that:
"The Rockefeller-controlled Chase Manhattan Bank tops the list, controlling 16 companies."
He was faulted for spending excessive amounts of time abroad, and during his tenure as CEO the bank had more troubled loans than any other major bank. Chase owned more New York City securities in the mid-1970s, when the city was nearing bankruptcy. A scandal erupted in 1974 when an audit found that losses from bond trading had been understated, and in 1975 the bank was branded a "problem bank" by the Federal Reserve
From 1974 to 1976, Chase earnings fell 36 percent while those of its biggest rivals rose 12 to 31 percent. The bank's earnings more than doubled between 1976 and 1980, far outpacing its rival Citibank
in return on assets
. By 1981 the bank's finances were restored to full health.
Rockefeller retired from active management of the bank in 1981, succeeded by his protégé Willard C. Butcher
. Former Chase chairman John J. McCloy said at the time that he believed Rockefeller would not go down in history as a great banker but rather as a "real personality, as a distinguished and loyal member of the community".
Rockefeller was criticized for befriending foreign autocrats in order to expand Chase interests in their countries. The New York Times
columnist David Brooks
wrote in 2002 that Rockefeller "spent his life in the club of the ruling class and was loyal to members of the club, no matter what they did." He noted that Rockefeller had cut profitable deals with "oil-rich dictators", "Soviet party bosses" and "Chinese perpetrators of the Cultural Revolution".
Though a lifelong Republican
and party contributor, he was a member of the moderate "Rockefeller Republicans" that arose out of the political ambitions and public policy stance of his brother Nelson. In 2006, he teamed up with former Goldman Sachs
executives and others to form a fund-raising group based in Washington, Republicans Who Care, that supported moderate Republican candidates over more ideological contenders.
Central Intelligence Agency ties
Rockefeller was acquainted with Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) director Allen Dulles
and his brother, Eisenhower administration Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
—who was an in-law of the family
—since his college years.
It was in Rockefeller Center that Allen Dulles had set up his WWII operational center after Pearl Harbor
, liaising closely with MI6
, which also had their principal U.S. operation in the Center.
He also knew and associated with the former CIA director Richard Helms
as well as Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt Jr.
, a Chase Bank employee and former CIA agent whose first cousin, CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt Jr.
, was involved in the Iran coup of 1953
Also in 1953, he had befriended William Bundy
, a pivotal CIA analyst for nine years in the 1950s, who became the Agency liaison to the National Security Council
, and a subsequent lifelong friend.
Moreover, in Cary Reich's biography of his brother Nelson, a former CIA agent states that David was extensively briefed on covert intelligence operations by himself and other Agency division chiefs, under the direction of David's "friend and confidant", CIA Director Allen Dulles.
Plaque honoring David Rockefeller work on behalf of New York City
After the war and alongside his work at Chase, Rockefeller took a more active role in his family's business dealings. Working with his brothers in the two floors of Rockefeller Center known as Room 5600, he reorganized the family's myriad business and philanthropic ventures. The men kept regular "brothers' meetings" where they made decisions on matters of common interest and reported on noteworthy events in each of their lives. Rockefeller served as secretary to the group, making notes of each meeting. The notes are now in the family archive and will be released in the future.
Following the deaths of his brothers, Winthrop (1973), John III (1978), Nelson (1979), and Laurance
(2004), David became sole head of the family (with the important involvement of his elder son, David Jr.).
Rockefeller ensured that selected members of the fourth generation, known generically as the cousins
, became directly involved in the family's institutions. This involved inviting them to be more active in the Rockefeller Brothers Fund
, the principal foundation established in 1940 by the five brothers and their one sister. The extended family also became involved in their own philanthropic organization, formed in 1967 and primarily established by third-generation members, called the Rockefeller Family Fund.
In the 1980s, Rockefeller became embroiled in controversy over the mortgaging and sale of Rockefeller Center to Japanese interests. In 1985, the Rockefeller family mortgaged the property for $1.3 billion, with $300 million of that going to the family. In 1989, 51 percent of the property, later increased to 80 percent, was sold to Mitsubishi
Estate Company of Japan. This action was criticized for surrendering a major U.S. landmark to foreign interests.
In 2000, Rockefeller presided over the final sale of Rockefeller Center to Tishman Speyer Properties
, along with the Crown family of Chicago, which ended the more than 70 years of direct family financial association with Rockefeller Center.
In 2005, he gave $100 million to the Museum of Modern Art and $100 million to Rockefeller University
, two of the most prominent family institutions; as well as $10 million to Harvard
and $5 million to Colonial Williamsburg
. In 2006, he pledged $225 million to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund
upon his death, the largest gift in the Fund's history. The money will be used to create the David Rockefeller Global Development Fund
, to support projects that improve access to health care, conduct research on international finance and trade, fight poverty, and support sustainable development, as well as to a program that fosters dialogue between Muslim and Western nations.
Rockefeller donated $100 million to Harvard University
in 2008. The New York Times
estimated in November 2006 that his total charitable donations amount to $900 million over his lifetime, a figure that was substantiated by a monograph on the family's overall benefactions, entitled The Chronicle of Philanthropy
He published Memoirs
in 2002, the only time a member of the Rockefeller family has written an autobiography.
Rockefeller's will requires his estate, once assets are liquidated, to donate over $700 million to various non-profits, including Rockefeller University, the Museum of Modern Art and Harvard. The largest donation will be either $250 million or the remaining balance of the estate that will fund the launch of the David Rockefeller Global Development Fund.
In 1940, Rockefeller married Margaret "Peggy" McGrath, who died in 1996.
They had six children:
- David Rockefeller Jr. (born July 24, 1941) – vice chairman, Rockefeller Family & Associates (the family office, Room 5600); chairman of Rockefeller Financial Services; Trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation; former chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Rockefeller & Co., Inc., among many other family institutions.
- Abigail Aldrich "Abby" Rockefeller (born 1943) – economist and feminist. Eldest and most rebellious daughter, she was drawn to Marxism and was an ardent admirer of Fidel Castro and a late 1960s/early 1970s radical feminist who belonged to the organization Female Liberation, later forming a splinter group called Cell 16. An environmentalist and ecologist, she was an active supporter of the women's liberation movement.
- Neva Rockefeller (born 1944) – economist and philanthropist. She is director of the Global Development and Environment Institute; trustee and vice chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Director of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
- Margaret Dulany "Peggy" Rockefeller (born 1947) – founder of the Synergos Institute in 1986; Board member of the Council on Foreign Relations; serves on the Advisory Committee of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.
- Richard Gilder Rockefeller (1949–2014) – physician and philanthropist; chairman of the United States advisory board of the international aid group Doctors Without Borders; trustee and chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
- Eileen Rockefeller (born February 26, 1952) – venture philanthropist; Founding Chair of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, established in New York City in 2002.
At the time of his death, Forbes
estimated Rockefeller's net worth was $3.3 billion.
Initially, most of his wealth had come to him via the family trusts created by his father, which were administered by Room 5600 and the Chase Bank
. In turn, most of these trusts were held as shares in the successor companies of Standard Oil
, as well as diverse real estate investment partnerships, such as the expansive Embarcadero Center
in San Francisco, which he later sold for considerable profit, retaining only an indirect stake. In addition, he was or had been a partner in various properties such as Caneel Bay
, a 4,000-acre (16 km2
) resort development in the Virgin Islands
; a cattle ranch in Argentina; and a 15,500-acre (63 km2
) sheep ranch in Australia.
Another major source of asset wealth was his art collection, ranging from impressionist
, which he developed through the influence upon him of his mother Abby and her establishment, with two associates, of the Museum of Modern Art
in New York City in 1929.
The collection, valued at several hundred million dollars, was auctioned in the spring of 2018, with proceeds going to several designated nonprofit organizations, including Rockefeller University, Harvard University, the Museum of Modern Art, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
Rockefeller's principal residence was at "Hudson Pines", on the family estate in Pocantico Hills, New York
. He also had a Manhattan residence at 146 East 65th Street,
as well as a country residence (known as "Four Winds") at a farm in Livingston, New York
), where his wife raised Simmenthal
He also maintained a summer home, "Ringing Point," at Seal Harbor on Mount Desert Island
off the Maine
In May 2015, he donated one thousand acres of land in Seal Harbor to the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve
He also owned a large estate on the French island of St. Barth, and along with the Rothschild family
, was one of the earliest developers and tourists on the island in the 1950s. The home was very modern and was located in the Colombier district, known to many as the most beautiful section of the island. It has changed hands several times over the years, and is the single largest private parcel on the island, encompassing the entire Baie de Colombier. Many years ago, the Rockefeller family donated the land in the initial creation of the Saint-Barth "Zone Verte," or Green Zone, which is an area which cannot be developed. The property also includes a private dock in the port of Gustavia as at the time the estate was developed, there were no roads to the property and the only way to get there was by boat; David Rockefeller would moor his yacht at his private dock in Gustavia before transferring to the Colombier estate in a smaller boat as the bay could not accommodate his yacht. The property was recently listed for over $100 million, but is not currently used as a residence and the main house has fallen into disrepair. There is also a dock in the Baie de Colombier. It is not known what the current owners' intentions are.
The Kykuit section of the Rockefeller family compound is the location of The Pocantico Conference Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund
– established by David and his four brothers in 1940 – which was created when the Fund leased the area from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1991.
Non-governmental leadership positions
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