David Rockefeller Sr., last of the famously philanthropic Rockefeller family


David Rockefeller Sr., last of the famously philanthropic Rockefeller family
  1. David Rockefeller Sr., last of the famously philanthropic Rockefeller family
    theage.com.au
    David Rockefeller, who grew up in the largest private residence in New York City, was required to do chores. At 7, he spent eight hours a day raking leaves on the family's 3,400 acre…
    Health

David Rockefeller Sr., the heir to a vast and storied family fortune who, as president, chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan Bank transformed a listless business into one of the world's largest financial institutions, has died at his home in Pocantico Hills, New York aged 101.

A spokesman, Fraser P. Seitel, said the cause was congestive heart failure.

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David Rockefeller, the last of his generation in the famously philanthropic Rockefeller family, pictured in 1981. David Rockefeller, the last of his generation in the famously philanthropic Rockefeller family, pictured in 1981.  Photo: AP

Dr. Rockefeller was the last surviving grandchild of oil baron John D. Rockefeller, who became one of the richest men in the world by the time he died in 1937. The younger Rockefeller's four brothers, John III, Nelson, Laurance and Winthrop, carved prominent careers in philanthropy, politics, conservation and politics, respectively.

David Rockefeller became a banking stalwart. He was a globe-trotting financial diplomat and twice declined President Richard M. Nixon's offer to become secretary of the treasury because he felt his position at Chase gave him more influence. In 1979, he used his contacts at the highest levels of government to bring the ailing and deposed shah of Iran to the United States for medical treatment.

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(L-R) Susan Rockefeller, David Rockefeller Sr. and Ariana Rockefeller at the Museum of Modern Art Party, New York City, 2016. (L-R) Susan Rockefeller, David Rockefeller Sr. and Ariana Rockefeller at the Museum of Modern Art Party, New York City, 2016. Photo: AAP

Rockefeller was a celebrated philanthropist. He donated millions of dollars to the Museum of Modern Art, his alma mater Harvard, and the Council on Foreign Relations, where he served as chairman from 1970 to 1985. He turned his family-sponsored medical research centre into Rockefeller University in New York.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Rockefeller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honour, for co-founding the International Executive Service Corps, a volunteer organisation that since 1964 has sent American business executives to developing countries to provide management expertise.

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When Rockefeller arrived at Chase in 1946, New York law restricted the bank's business to the city. Using family connections - particularly his brother Nelson, a Republican who was then governor of New York - he got the restrictive laws overturned in 1960.

Chase expanded into Westchester and Nassau counties. Eventually the bank's reach extended  across Europe, Latin America and Asia. The bank made loans to Panamanian ranchers, financed bowling alleys in Europe and backed a bus line in the Virgin Islands. By the early 1960s, it had become the second-largest bank in the country.

When Rockefeller first joined Chase, the bank handled wealthy clients, banks and corporations and snubbed deposits smaller than $5000. It was largely mismanaged, lacked a budget and had no formal organisation chart or comprehensive business plan.

Rockefeller became the bank's president in 1961 and, among many modernisation efforts, set out to attract a diverse clientele, implementing the slogan "You have a friend at Chase Manhattan."

But by the mid-1970s, the bank had lost ground. When Rockefeller became chairman in 1969, Chase was about even with Citicorp in assets and deposits. By aggressively targeting retail customers and foreign clients, Citi overtook Chase in three years.

During his 12-year reign as chairman, Rockefeller was often accused of being an absentee leader. He took 78 trips abroad. Although many of those trips were associated with business, critics said he was gone too much to redress the bank's problems.

"If there was one defect of his leadership of the Chase, it's that he had so many other strong interests that he couldn't focus all his attention on the bank," New York University financial historian Richard Sylla said.

In 1976, $1.9 billion of loans the bank made went sour, including $50 million lost when the department store W.T. Grant declared bankruptcy. "A large part of the bank's liabilities stems from Rockefeller's high-minded conviction that the Chase should be a good corporate citizen," Time magazine reported in 1976.

When New York City verged on bankruptcy in 1975, Chase bought more than $400 million of city bonds and notes, which helped the city but hurt the bank's bottom line.

Chase also invested more than $730 million in real estate investment trusts, an investment vehicle Rockefeller often used to reduce corporate income taxes. When real estate values plummeted in the 1970s, nearly three-quarters of the bank's real estate holdings produced no income. By the time he retired in 1981, the bank had fallen from the third-largest in the world to 89th.

David Rockefeller, the youngest of six children, was born in Manhattan on June 12, 1915. His mother, Abby, was a founder of the Museum of Modern Art. His father, John D. Rockefeller Jr., was emotionally distant, high strung and tormented by his inherited wealth, but he drove into his children a sense of noblesse oblige and a commitment to hard work.

David, who grew up in the largest private residence in New York City, was required to do chores. At 7, he spent eight hours a day raking leaves on the family's 3400 acre estate in Westchester County. In Maine, where the family owned a summer home, he pulled weeds by hand, earning a penny a weed.

He found fun in entomology.

One summer in Maine, he took a natural history course and developed a passion for beetles. On warm nights, he would hang a bedsheet outside his bedroom and set a light in front of it. Soon, the sheet would be crawling with insects. He would eventually collect more than 40,000 specimens.

In later years, foreign bankers would arrive at Chase Manhattan bearing packaged beetles for Rockefeller.

As a boy, his parents often entertained artists, foreign leaders, adventurers and politicians, and young David moved seamlessly among them. One Antarctic explorer-cum-family acquaintance named a relay camp after …

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