The name has always had a golden aura. Rockefeller means basically one thing—money. Last week when David Rockefeller, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 65, stepped down as chairman of the high-profile Chase Manhattan Corp., it had the air of a royal occasion. As one Chase stockholder put it in a farewell address: “You are received abroad like a head of state, but here in our annual meetings you have been democratic and responsive.” True, David Rockefeller had as much contact with international monetary concerns and their potentates as there is rain in April. And, when Chase’s fortunes began to dip drastically in the early ’70s, Rockefeller’s global connections kept it afloat. Speculation abounded on the news of his retirement that “David’s bank” would have to compensate greatly for the loss of the Rockefeller cachet.
However, last week’s stockholders’ meeting brought a continuity that wasn’t really much of a surprise: David Rockefeller was named chairman of Chase’s international advisory council. The news of his demise had been, in Mark Twain’s words, greatly exaggerated. In an open letter to him, his successor, 54-year-old former president Willard C. (Bill) Butcher, wrote:“Perhaps more than any other individual in the world today you stand as a symbol of American capitalism.” But while Rockefeller was pursuing his statesman’s role, earnings were stagnating, so Butcher’s first priority is to get Chase to open as many retail outlets as regulations permit, boosting its domestic assets by increasing deposits.
Butcher and Rockefeller are as alike as night and day. The new chairman is a chain smoker with a two-fisted approach: when Chase was in trouble in the early ’70s because of $1 billion (U.S.) in bad real estate investments, he engineered the rolling of many executive heads, called in outside strategists and generally gave Chase a good overhaul. Meanwhile, the mild-mannered and aristocratic David Rockefeller, who collected art and had the ears of foreign powers, carried Chase with his overseas dealings while Butcher had a wide berth (and little worry) to carry out his gung ho reforms. The yin and yang combination resulted in Chase becoming the nation’s third-largest bank with assets last year of $76 billion.
Some analysts feel that Chase’s continuing convalescence isn’t the same as beaming good health, suggesting that the corporation has put its house in order without really adding any new wings. Butcher, clearly, is trying to lure the more upwardly mobile client to his bank, Chase having already increased its prices for retail services; and now it’s exhorting young New York professionals to take advantage of “the Chase advantage.” And, meanwhile, there is David Rockefeller to take care of business abroad while Bill Butcher feathers the nest at home.
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