Profile of David Rockefeller
Aired October 19, 2002 - 16:30 ET
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WILLOW BAY, HOST (voice-over): The Rockefellers. They left an indelible impression on American business.
DAVID ROCKEFELLER, FORMER CHAIRMAN, CHASE MANHATTAN BANK: I think he felt that, in uniting an important industry, he had made a contribution to the country...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Building on his family's tradition of charitable giving...
BAY: ... and rewrote the rules of American philanthropy.
ROCKEFELLER: He recognized that there were many problems in the world that could be held by wise use of money.
BAY: In his newly published memoirs, David Rockefeller, the youngest grandson of the legendary John D., is looking back at that storied past, and, now that philanthropy, not oil, is the family business, he's making it possible for hundreds of heirs with hundreds of millions to forge their own past.
David Rockefeller takes us on a journey through Rockefeller country on this edition of PINNACLE.
ANNOUNCER: This is PINNACLE with Willow Bay.
ROCKEFELLER: My grandfather bought 3,000 acres altogether.
BAY: He is David Rockefeller, the youngest grandson of John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil and America's first billionaire.
While his life may mark the end of one era, he's determined to build a bridge to the next, proud and protective of the family name, Rockefeller, synonymous with the history of 20th-Century America -- big business, modern philanthropy, art, culture, and science.
Now, at the age of 87, after a life filled with challenging and charitable pursuits, David is telling his story and theirs. ROCKEFELLER: It was fun thinking through my early career.
BAY: "David Rockefeller Memoirs." It's a very personal history of a very public family.
ROCKEFELLER: It seemed to me that, if I were going to do it, it had to be honest and straightforward.
BAY: His tale begins with John D. Rockefeller, the family patriarch and a man that David said he knew not as the robber baron or great philanthropist of the history books but as simply Grandfather.
ROCKEFELLER: I remember Grandfather very well. I was 21 years old at the time of his death and had seen him quite regularly throughout my life.
BAY: John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil in 1870, a move that would revolutionize the way America did business. He created the first multinational corporation and amassed a great fortune that would benefit some and enrage others.
ROCKEFELLER: There is no doubt that, in the process of building the Standard Oil Company and acquiring and merging with lots of other companies that he was tough.
BAY: Tough and shrewd. The industrial revolution was dawning, and the country needed oil. John D. bought up dozens of oil companies and squeezed out scores of others.
ROCKEFELLER: He would put people out of business, and he would buy businesses from others.
BAY: He consolidated production and distribution, providing oil that was better and cheaper than the competition's. At its height, Standard Oil would control 90 percent of the domestic oil business.
ROCKEFELLER: His unifying the industry was essential to its getting going in the early days.
BAY (on camera): And creating, in many ways, a precursor to the modern corporation, meaning a fully integrated enterprise.
ROCKEFELLER: That's exactly right.
BAY (voice-over): Standard Oil, says David, made John D. the richest man in America and, for much of his life, one of the most hated, vilified as a ruthless predator the greatest criminal of his age, but David's memoirs paint a fuller portrait of the man.
ROCKEFELLER: My perception of him was as a gentle, caring human being...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Won't you give her a dime, Mr. Rockefeller?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, sir. ROCKEFELLER: ... who felt his successes were in the best interest of the country, not just to himself. I don't think that he ever for one moment felt that the criticisms of him were justified.
BAY: More than criticism. an historic legal ruling against the way he did business. In 1911, the Supreme Court declared Standard Oil a monopoly in restraint of trade and ordered it dissolved.
But John D. still owned all those small oil companies, and their market value doubled and tripled. At its peak, John D.'s empire represented 3 percent of the American economy.
He became America's first billionaire, and managing that staggering fortune became an overwhelming challenge. Not content to simply leave it to his children, John D. would spend more and more of his time devoted to what he called the art of giving.
He turned to his only son, David's father, John D., Jr., for help, a man David describes as plagued by feelings of inadequacy in a lifelong race to be worthy of his name and inheritance.
(on camera): You describe your father as somewhat fragile emotionally.
ROCKEFELLER: My father was lacking in self-confidence, particularly in his early days.
BAY (voice-over): John D., Jr., considered the family's wealth a heavy burden. By 18, he had suffered two nervous collapses. For 13 years, he worked at Standard Oil and, then suffering yet another breakdown in his early '30s, resigned.
ROCKEFELLER: He felt that he was not particularly good at business and that this wasn't his thing.
BAY: What was his thing was philanthropy. In 1913, John D. created the Rockefeller Foundation, endowing it with $100 million. He gave it to John D., Jr., to run.
(on camera): Your father bore that responsibility and executed that duty with increasing amounts of confidence?
ROCKEFELLER: Very much so. I think what he did was not only good in itself. It's certainly a good example to his children.
BAY (voice-over): While John D., Jr., may have set a good example for his children, David, the youngest of the six, describes him as a formal, rarely affectionate parent.
By contrast, his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was a warm and spirited woman, beloved as a nurturing force and celebrated for a passion she passed on to her children as well, modern art.
David's father did not share her enthusiasm.
(on camera): You tell some delightful tales about growing up with these two parents with very different tastes in art.
ROCKEFELLER: That is certainly true. Father described it as modern art, which meant anything he didn't like. Fortunately, we lived in a nine-story house, so there was room for both. And what he agreed to was to let her take over the seventh floor of the house, and she made it into a gallery.
BAY (voice-over): Quickly outgrowing her gallery, Abby Rockefeller talked her husband into donating $4 million and some property on 54th Street to build the Museum of Modern Art. It opened in 1939.
ANNOUNCER: ... the spanking new home of a nationally important institution.
BAY: When PINNACLE returns, David Rockefeller makes his way in the world and makes a name for himself, the Rockefeller way.
BAY (on camera): What did you learn about yourself through the process of writing this book?
ROCKEFELLER: It made me reflect on what I had done and, in a sense, why I had done it.
BAY (voice-over): What David Rockefeller has done over a lifetime is to build a name for himself as a business leader, statesman, philanthropist, and caretaker of the family legacy, treating his privileged upbringing as an opportunity to explore the world and to engage its most interesting minds.
ROCKEFELLER: ... one of the coming great scientists of the world, and I'm awfully glad to be here with you.
BAY: As he recounts in his memoirs, he's met with some of modern history's great leaders, thinkers, and personalities.
(on camera): Charles Lindbergh.
ROCKEFELLER: My parents invited him to come and spend the weekend with us. We took him for a swim in the family pool, and he swam underwater two lengths without coming to the surface, and I thought that was very impressive.
BAY: Sigmund Freud.
ROCKEFELLER: I wish I had known him better. I had met him through his daughter in Vienna. I think it was 1937, if I'm not mistaken.
BAY: Picasso. ROCKEFELLER: I met him through a friend of my mother's. She was Picasso's mistress, but her husband was upstairs, an elderly gentleman. We went up and called on him after the lunch.
BAY (voice-over): At 87, his memory is impressive, and so is his Rolodex.
ROCKEFELLER: Here is a card for General Colin Powell.
BAY: Over the years, he's made a card for every person of note he's encountered.
ROCKEFELLER: Here is George W. Bush.
BAY: It's both an historic reference and a way to refresh his memory.
(on camera): We use this expression Golden Rolodex, which seems utterly inadequate when it comes to describing yours. Is it true you have a Rolodex of 100,000 or so names?
ROCKEFELLER: There are a lot of names in it. I haven't ever counted them, but there could be that many. I have met a lot of interesting people.
BAY (voice-over): People he met at Harvard, the London School of Economics, the University of Chicago, and in the Army during World War II, where he gathered intelligence throughout Africa and Southwestern France.
On his return in 1946, David embarked on a career which would take him to the top of corporate America as chairman and CEO of the country's largest bank, Chase Manhattan, often called the Rockefeller bank.
David would spend the next three decades transforming Chase into a complex global institution.
ROCKEFELLER: I believed the United States should play an important role in the world and that one way of -- of their doing that was through banking.
BAY: David's standardized services and expanded Chase's operation in the industrial and financial centers of Europe, the growing urban centers of Latin America and the Pacific Rim, throughout the critical petroleum-producing companies in the Middle East and, later, in the Soviet Union and China.
(on camera): All the while working your way up through the management ranks.
ROCKEFELLER: That's right. I think that, while I was at the bank, I occupied every managerial category from assistant cashier to chairman of the board.
BAY (voice-over): In 1961, when he was just 46, he became Chase's president and co-chief executive officer.
With international success came international influence. Rockefeller met with more than 200 heads of state and government, a number of whom became personal friends.
But some of them were no friends to the United States. Nikita Khrushchev of Russia, Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Augusto Pinochet of Chile. The critics went so far as to say David Rockefeller never met a dictator he didn't like. His memoirs offered him a chance to respond.
ROCKEFELLER: There were relationships that were delicate and difficult and where I was anxious to have the facts known.
BAY: Of all those relationships, perhaps the most delicate and difficult were those he forged in the Middle East, walking a fine line between Arab and Israeli tensions. In fact, in the '70s, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger enlisted his aid several times to carry messages to Middle Eastern leaders such as to Egypt's Anwar Sadat.
ROCKEFELLER: Anwar Sadat is one of my heroes. He had a vision of what needed to be done to bring the Middle East together and took very courageous steps to meet with the leaders of Israel.
BAY: By now, he was chairman and CEO, spending a great deal of his time forging international ties, but critics back home charge that he was losing touch, neglecting the less glamorous domestic banking business. The press blasted David.
(on camera): How did you weather those storms?
ROCKEFELLER: I certainly don't think I enjoyed them. One of the articles I remember at the time had a big headline saying, "David, Fire Yourself," which I didn't think was very friendly.
BAY (voice-over): By 1974, the country was in recession. The bank's earnings were sliding, and its real-estate portfolio was losing value. Customers complained of deteriorating service. Archrival Citibank eclipsed Chase as America's number one bank.
In that same year, an accounting scandal in the bank's bond market seriously damaged Chase and its chairman's integrity. In a showdown with Chase's board of directors in 1975, David vowed to solve its problems.
(on camera): As you wrote, you wanted to go out a winner?
ROCKEFELLER: That's true. We came up with a program with the proper objectives, and I presented those to the directors and said, "This is what I would like to see done before I retire. We did, in fact, accomplish just about all of the objectives.
BAY (voice-over): He says look at his record. When he stepped aside as CEO on January 1, 1980, the bank was back on course, posting record earnings, its international presence spanned more than 70 countries, and aggregate earnings during his decade as CEO had nearly tripled.
(on camera): So, by your assessment, when you retired, did you go out a winner?
ROCKEFELLER: I thought so.
BAY (voice-over): He may be retired...
ROCKEFELLER: I had a wonderful week in Mexico.
BAY: ... but David Rockefeller still goes to the office every day.
ROCKEFELLER: Nice visit with President Fox.
BAY: Preserving the Rockefeller legacy and managing the family business, philanthropy, next on PINNACLE.
BAY (on camera): You write that, as children, we recognize that we belonged to an unusual family and had an unusual family legacy, which some saw as a burden and others saw as an opportunity. How did you react?
ROCKEFELLER: Well, I never looked upon it as a burden. I think I looked upon it much more as an opportunity.
BAY (voice-over): An opportunity David Rockefeller has used to make a change in the world for the better.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The president of the United States of America awards this Presidential Medal of Freedom to David Rockefeller.
BAY: Today, he lives in the Pocantico Hills in Westchester, New York.
(on camera): You raised your children here.
BAY (voice-over): His home is nestled amid thousands of acres of family land given to the public in 1983, a private oasis in a public park.
ROCKEFELLER: It's peaceful, isn't it?
BAY (on camera): Oh, it's terrific.
ROCKEFELLER: It's just beautiful.
BAY (voice-over): It is the Rockefeller way to turn private riches and personal passions into public works.
BAY: A legacy born a century ago by the dynasty's patriarch, John D. Rockefeller.
ROCKEFELLER: He recognized that there were many problems in the world that could be helped by wise use of money.
BAY: David writes that his grandfather was concerned that giving away vast sums of money without weighing the consequences could do great harm.
ROCKEFELLER: He was very conscious that it could be used against the public interest as well as for it.
BAY: Created in 1913, the Rockefeller Foundation had an ambitious goal, to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world. With a $100 million endowment, the breadth of its efforts was unparalleled: preserving the Redwoods in California, funding the education of black women at Spelman College in Atlanta, supporting ground-breaking medical research at the Rockefeller Institute.
David's father, John D., Jr., ran the foundation, teaching his own six children that philanthropy could take many forms. He took them on trips around the world where they learned to appreciate great beauty and respond to great need. In 1923, they visited the Palace of Versailles, badly decimated by World War I.
ROCKEFELLER: Water was coming down and destroying the walls, so he rebuilt the roofs of Versailles.
BAY: Donating over $2 million for the restoration. In 1926, witnessing the spread of honkytonks in Jackson Hole, Wisconsin, John D., Jr., spent $13 million buying up land to create the Grand Teton National Park.
ROCKEFELLER: I learned a lot from him in that sense, that when he saw problems, he did something about them and had the means to do it and did it very intelligently.
BAY: From founding a medical college in China to the building of Riverside Church and The Cloisters in New York City. His father's efforts opened David's eyes to the possibilities that a wise use of money could create.
ROCKEFELLER: I thought the things that Father did were very exciting.
BAY: For the Rockefellers of today -- and there are nearly 200 of them -- philanthropy is big business. The Rockefeller Foundation ranks 13 out of the top 100 in the U.S.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund created by David and his brothers in 1940 is worth $600 million. David is chairman emeritus and sits on the board of nearly a dozen other philanthropic organizations, a role model for his own children and their cousins.
ROCKEFELLER: I'm terribly pleased about this having been named for Peggy.
BAY (on camera): You not too long ago lost your wife, Peggy. But you have six grown children. What is the legacy that you pass on to them?
ROCKEFELLER: Well, I like to feel that the family has a rather remarkable tradition, not just of giving money to charity, but of personally playing a responsible role in our society by becoming involved in major issues of the city and the country and the world.
BAY (voice-over): In 1989, David started the David Rockefeller Fund, a philanthropic tutorial of sorts.
ROCKEFELLER: The grandchildren are just getting to an age where they're interested in it, and I'm encouraging them to become involved.
BAY: With an annual budget of $225,000, it encourages young Rockefellers to get directly involved in small community-based initiatives.
(on camera): Can you describe your style in passing this on. Is it to inspire, encourage, motivate, excite? How would you describe it?
ROCKEFELLER: A little of each of those things. In other words, feel that giving money away can be satisfying and rewarding in a greater sense than just the giving away of it and that personal involvement in what I give to is -- often makes the gift more valuable.
BAY (voice-over): A valuable lesson. A treasured legacy. David Rockefeller on this edition of PINNACLE.
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