The MoneyWeek Audit: David Rockefeller

How did he start out?

David Rockefeller, who died this week aged 101, was born on 12 June 1915 in Manhattan. He was the last-surviving grandchild of John D. Rockefeller, the co-founder of Standard Oil and America’s first billionaire. Born into a life of immense privilege, the young Rockefeller was raised in the largest house in the city. He and his brothers would go rollerskating down Fifth Avenue, trailed by a limousine in case they grew tired. After studying at Harvard and the London School of Economics, Rockefeller finished his PhD at the University of Chicago.

What did he do?

After serving during the Second World War, Rockefeller joined Chase National Bank, which was known as the “Rockefeller Bank” despite his family never owning more than a 5% stake in the company. He was made president within a decade, but drew criticism for his globetrotting – it’s said he met 200 heads of state in 40 years, and befriended the Shah of Iran.

In the 1970s, the bank’s performance suffered, and Citibank overtook Chase as America’s biggest bank. A scandal involving the cover up of a $33m bond-trading loss further knocked confidence in his leadership. He retired in 1981, but worked on with the bank.

How did he use his wealth?

Rockefeller, whose fortune was estimated at $2.7bn in 2012, donated tens of millions of dollars to Harvard, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Rockefeller University. In 2005, he made a $100m bequest to the Museum of Modern Art, whose sculpture garden sits on the site of his childhood home. In 2015, to mark his 100th birthday, he gave 1,000 acres of land next to
a national park to the state of Maine. He was also an avid collector of art and his private collection has been valued at $500m.

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