David Rockefeller Jnr

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am


DAYS OF WAR I have a child's impression of the second world war as I was only four when it ended, in 1945. Luckily, I didn't have the fear someone in London or Hiroshima would have had. But I did miss my father because he was a captain in the United States army in North Africa. He was in the intelligence division and after the war he played an important role in the reinvigoration of France. His mother had urged her sons to join the war. My father could have found some way to avoid it but he wanted to go. I only learned about the significance of the war afterwards. I went to The Buckley School, a private school in New York, for my primary education. In those days, the visibility of my family was quite strong but the number of family members was quite small. There were concerns about security, though, so we were driven to school by a chauffeur. But as a student at a private school, my life was not so different from those of the other boys.

TAKING NOTES I was interested in singing when I was a boy. When I heard the Harvard Glee Club sing during my freshman orientation, I thought they were fantastic. I was lucky enough to join the club during my freshman year. There I met Kenneth Fung [Hing-cheung] from Hong Kong, who was a graduate student at the School of Design. The group was preparing to go on a world tour and I was selected, along with Kenneth. The 1961 tour brought me to Hong Kong and I spent a day at Kenneth's house in Repulse Bay, with [his parents] Sir Kenneth [Fung Ping-fan] and Lady Fung. Hong Kong was less developed then, but was already an important port. I had an interest in the ocean, so I took note of how busy the port was, how the ships avoided running into each other, the sampans, Star Ferry. But, unfortunately, I fell ill and missed the performance.

NOT OCCUPYING WALL STREET In 1968, I joined the management of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was a small team then. I became interested in marketing, as ticket sales had started to drop off at the end of the 1960s. I later got into fund-raising, then community relations, and then reformed the orchestra governance and introduced a board of overseers. My parents weren't opposed to my work in the orchestra. It was my choice - they knew I loved music and was interested in management. It's possible they were disappointed I didn't become a Wall Street lawyer, but they wanted their children to be happy. My father was president of Chase Manhattan Bank at that time, but the bank had a policy of not allowing the children of executive-level employees to join the bank, anyway.

THE REAL DEAL After Boston [orchestra], I was asked to become chairman of a national commission to examine the role of arts in America's education system. That was my biggest job to date, until I became the publisher of weekly newspaper The Real Paper, which was a very progressive paper. I think it's fair to say the paper was 'anti-establishment' to the extent that the establishment was more right-of-centre but we were more left-of-centre. It covered local arts and politics [in Boston]. At the time, young people had a lot of anger with the government and the military-industrial complex. We felt our elders had got it wrong.

DEEP IMPACT I have always enjoyed the ocean and the natural environment, but only started to take action later in life. I was a sailor at 11 and a hiker in the mountains at 40. One of the jobs I got deeply involved in was chairman of the National Park Foundation. I reported to the secretary of the interior - it was the first time I had a role connected to Washington and politics. I learned so much about problems in the parks, and that really fired me up. In the 90s, I began my involvement with the environment. There's obviously some irony there because of my family's oil business, but one reason why I've been able to work as a philanthropist is because of the oil money my great-grandfather [John D. Rockefeller] made. In those days, interest in the environment was modest. My great-grandfather was a man of his time. Some people joked that he saved the whales, because people used to use whale oil to provide lighting. But, unintentionally, maybe he did a very good thing.

FAMILY MAN In the early 80s, I started spending more time on the family business. Four of my father's brothers and sisters died in the 70s, leaving only two members of that generation. So there was a leadership gap. In the mid-80s, my father decided it was time for him to step aside and let the next generation take over. In the 90s, I became chairman of the family business. I wouldn't say I spend all of my time on family matters. I've always felt it is important to do things I love, things without any direct family connections. But the nice thing is some of these family things are very interesting, such as running a foundation that has a global mandate. I led a delegation to meet [Polish Solidarity leader] Lech Wa{lstrok}esa and other leaders in east-central Europe, in 1991. It was fascinating to help create an environmental movement after the devastation left by the communist regimes that never cared about that.

GENERATION NEXT The Rockefeller Foundation will celebrate its centennial in 2013. Our goal is still to help the poor and the vulnerable, and help them resist negative forces such as climate change and take advantage of positive forces, such as technology. The sixth generation of our family has more than 75 members, and we still operate effectively as a group in the organisations our family has founded and led.