David Rockefeller

      . . . memoirist. The youngest of Abby Aldrich and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s five sons, alleged favorite of John D. Rockefeller’s grandsons, David Rockefeller became successful in his own right as head of Chase Bank, building it to international prominence. He has also known and interacted with many of the 20th century’s major political and arts figures. Mr. Rockefeller is the first of his renown American family to publish an autobiography, called Memoirs.  In it, he offers a window on four generations of Rockefeller wealth, power and philanthropy.


Having influence is not what is important. It is how you use the influence that you have that counts, according to David Rockefeller. He wants the name “Rockefeller” to be associated with citizens who care about using their wealth in a constructive way that’s positive for a broader society, not just for themselves.

David Rockefeller was for many years the CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank, which he built to international prominence. He is also the youngest of Abigail Aldrich Rockefeller and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s five sons, brother of (Vice President of the United States) Nelson and (Governor of Arkansas) Winthrop, and among Grandfather John D. Rockefeller, Sr.’s favorites. David Rockefeller’s life-long interest in history took him into the world, banking and the arts, and philanthropy which combined all four interests. In his 88th year, reflecting on his _Memoirs_, he thinks his multifaceted life may be of interest well beyond his family.

“Citizen” is a constant thread David Rockefeller finds in his life and family, along with their uncontested wealth and fame. By the time America actively entered World War Two, the Rockefeller name was long equated with Standard Oil. It was also inseparable from New York City’s Rockefeller Center and the 75,000 jobs its construction created in the depths of the Great Depression. The Rockefeller Foundation was already important. Abby Rockefeller and two other ladies had already founded the Museum of Modern Art . (Her son David has held fast to her vision for almost 60 years on the MOMA Board.)

So why would Abby Rockefeller urge her youngest son -- exempt from the draft as a married man with two children -- to go to war?  Because, says David Rockefeller looking back, Rockefellers are citizens. Yes, he probably could have gotten a commission and a desk job in Washington. But he was convinced that if you were going to participate as a citizen, you should do it the way others did.  He enlisted. Went through basic training. Then officer candidate school. The Army put his fluency in French to work in military intelligence, and kept him far from his family for two and a half years.
But it was in war torn North Africa and Europe that David Rockefeller learned a pivotal lesson. Talking to people -- and listening -- is how you learn what’s going on. Mr. Rockefeller refined and enhanced that skill, putting it to work leading his bank locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, as a corporate citizen and as a private one. Mr. Rockefeller’s “Rolodex” now exceeds 100,000 names, a legacy of a lifetime in which he has known many of the leading figures of the last half century.

Yes, David Rockefeller is aware of conspiracy theories in which his name figures prominently. They are not true, he says simply, confident most people understand. And, yes, he is proud of the Rockefeller name, as his father and his grandfather were before him. In the end, it’s the good one can create with one’s name, wealth and influence that matter in life. Ask David Rockefeller.

[This Program was recorded November 12, 2003, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]



Conversation 1

David Rockefeller recalls some of the challenges and advantages of being the youngest of the five Rockefeller Brothers for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell.


Conversation 2

Starting with “Grandfather” and “Father” -- John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and Jr. -- David Rockefeller describes the responsibilities as well as pride of being a Rockefeller. He relates his long-standing interest in history to his experiences in the world, starting in the Middle East in World War Two and coming to the present day. Mr. Rockefeller disagrees with the tendency in today’s business world to maximize short run gains, convinced acting with a longer view is the better route to serving shareholders’ interests. 


Conversation 3

The modern corporation must understand its role and obligations to the community at large, Mr. Rockefeller says, serving the public as well as shareholders. He outlines an important role for corporate gifts to charitable institutions, drawing examples from how he helped shape a new kind of corporate giving at Chase Manhattan Bank. Speaking of his Grandfather’s leading role in inventing organized philanthropy, Mr. Rockefeller gives credit to the role of his grandmother, Laura Spelman Rockefeller and her family.  He then carries the story into the present of both his family and the business world. He articulates the obligation he feels for everyone to support not-for-profit organizations, both with money and experience.


Conversation 4

Both an interest in expanding a sense of what “Rockefeller” means in the world and a desire to share his extraordinarily interesting life led Mr. Rockefeller to write this memoir, he says, and expands.  While brothers Nelson and Winthrop pursued electoral politics, David Rockefeller describes his ability to be effective in the world from a private rather than elective post.  It is odd, he insists, that people see conspiracies to “rule” in his actions, theories he feels confident are largely dismissed by most people because, he says, they are not true.  How one uses one’s influence is what is important, he believes, not whether one has it. He gives examples from his own life.


Conversation 5

Mr. Rockefeller describes his life as a citizen, recalling the role his mother played in encouraging him to enlist in the Army in World War Two. He says more about his mother, daughter of the powerful politician Nelson Aldridge and one of the founders of the Museum of Modern art, in which Mr. Rockefeller has also been very active. He elaborates on the importance of the creativity of the arts, particularly painting and sculpture, in the lives of people and the country. Describing how his father came to build Rockefeller Center, Mr. Rockefeller notes how vital the Center has been to New York City from the 1920s to today.


Conversation 6

Mr. Rockefeller uses the Chase Bank’s lower Manhattan building as an example of the importance of buildings and the role art can play in them. He reiterates his hope that telling his life’s story has given people a sense of Rockefellers as citizens who care about using their wealth in constructive ways that are positive for a broader society.



Our thanks to Todd Doughty at Random House for the opportunity to engage in Conversation with Mr. Rockefeller.

We also appreciate Peter Johnson’s assistance and the enthusiastic response of Mr. Johnson and Fraser Seitel when they accompanied Mr. Rockefeller to this recording

Related Links:

David Rockefeller’s Memoirs is published by Random House.



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