|Born||May 29, 1928|
|Died||December 14, 2019 (Age 91)|
|Alma mater||McBurney School, Middlebury College|
|Member of||Council on Foreign Relations/Historical Members, French-American Foundation|
He worked for the investment bank Lazard Frères for most of his life, where he used his financial acumen, connections and diplomatic savvy to move between high finance and elite civic and government posts, melding private profit with politics. What distinguished him in both domains were his deft negotiating skills, his access to power and his understanding of it, his management of public perception (and of the journalists who shape it), and his adeptness not only with numbers but also with words.
Rohatyn was born in Vienna in 1928, the only son of Alexander Rohatyn, a Polish Jew, and Edith (Knoll) Rohatyn, a native of Austria. His father managed breweries controlled by the family in Vienna, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The family left Austria in 1935 for France, but fled in 1940, before arriving in the United States in 1942, where he went to Middlebury College.
Through his stepfather, who had moved back to France after WW2, Rohatyn met André Meyer. Meyer was a French financier who controlled the bank Lazard Frères, and would become Rohatyn's mentor and guide. After a training period in Europe, Rohatyn devoted himself to the practice of buying securities in one currency and selling them in another. He would stay at Lazard for the next 40 years, becoming a partner in 1960.
ITT and the Coup in Chile
In the 1960s, he took a close interest in the ITT Corporation, which had started as a telephone concern, and helped it become one of the first modern multinational conglomerates. ITT’s growth prompted an antitrust investigation by the Justice Department. It was settled, but then a leaked memo from an ITT lobbyist suggested that the company had offered $400,000 in contributions to the 1972 Republican National Convention in return for the Nixon administration’s agreeing to settle the case.
Rohatyn was on the board of directors of ITT when it actively conspired with the CIA against elected president Salvador Allende. They worked "to make the economy scream", to destabilize the Chilean economy as a prelude to the coup of September 11, 1973.
New York Shock Doctrine
Rohatyn’s knack for cultivating and capitalizing on relationships — and for fixing — was in greatest evidence in the spring of 1975, when Wall Street refused to extend New York City additional short-term credit.
To cover mounting deficits, the city had relied on short-term financing — a practice originally intended to make up for normal, seasonal cash shortfalls. This led only to steadily higher debt-service payments. The banks, worried that they would never be repaid, then summarily closed off the city’s access to credit, leading to a looming bankruptcy.
At Rohatyn’s direction, the state government set up the Emergency Financial Control Board, with Rohatyn as a member. It would set the amount of revenues available to the city, control all borrowing and labor contracts, and ensure that the city stuck to its fiscal plan each quarter, mostly by cutting expenses "at great social cost".
Rohatyn was United States Ambassador to France from 1997 to 2000, during the second term of the Clinton Administration. As ambassador, he organized the French-American Business Council.
Rohatyn later lost his position in Lazard, in a power struggle that led to the installation of the stylistic antithesis to Rohatyn, “Bid ’em Up Bruce” Wasserstein, for his famed ability to talk CEOs into bad deals. He became chairman of Lazard just before its public offering in 2005. Rohatyn founded his own firm.