James D. Wolfenson, who led the World Bank for 10 years, dies at the age of 86

James D., a financially influenced Australian who escaped childhood to become a Wall Street deal maker and two-term president of the World Bank. Wolfenson died Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 86 years old.

His daughter Naomi Wolfenson confirmed the death.

Mr. Wolfenson was a force on Wall Street for years, working for Salomon Brothers before helping save the Chrysler Corporation and running his own thriving boutique firm, with President Bill Clinton calling him the World Bank’s largest economic institution Was nominated to lead.

But he was more than a financier. He led efforts to raise funds as president of Carnegie Hall and led the revival of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. A skilled cellist under the patronage of the famous Jacqueline du Pr, he performed at Carnegie Hall on his milestone birthday. And as a varsity fencing champion, he was part of Australia’s 1956 Olympic team, competing in Melbourne in front of his fellow Australians.

But his main legacy was his loyalty to the World Bank, which President Clinton relinquished his Australian citizenship to qualify for the job in 1995 after being nominated in 1995, only to pass.

Arriving at the bank’s Washington headquarters to begin his first five-year tenure, he found life very comfortable there and demoted its staff members – a professional malaise, he said, to the bank for his families and here Even the news media was maligned.

He immediately attacked the “decency and malice” of the bank, as he put it. He found that the bank’s emphasis on technological, market-based reforms was hindering its central mission: supporting the world’s poorest countries.

He wrote in a 2010 memoir, “Throwing a Grenade at a Global Life,” a Global Life: My Journey Rich and Poor, From Sydney to Wall Street to the World Bank. “

A priority for Mr. Wolfenson was to make field visits to poor nations less organized than his predecessors, and to listen to the poor people themselves to describe their governance, history and culture. He launched a campaign against corruption in World Bank projects, which he called a “wall of silence”. Their efforts led to an audit move and the issue was placed on the agenda of developing countries.

“He accepted to talk about corruption,” said Hazel Denton, then a senior project economist at the bank. “By our time in office, we were inspired to sweep the subject under the carpet in the interest of ‘completing’ the project and getting a loan.”

Another Wolfenson initiative was to transfer the bank’s policy on loans made by most of its poor African and South American client countries. Instead of insisting on repayment, he sought to write off too much debt.

“How, I reasoned, can you do a lending business for low-debt borrowers and then pretend that you will be repaid 100 percent on each loan?” She wrote. “I felt that any system that relied on this argument is doomed.”

Catching some of a popular wave, including support from Pope John Paul II (who cited the absence of debt in Levitus), World Bank directors approved $ 500 million for the Relief Trust Fund in 1996; Three years later, he relaxed eligibility for fast and deep debt relief.

Mr. Wolfenson said that he is particularly proud of establishing a high-speed communications network connecting affiliates in 80 countries, allowing interactive video conferencing and distance learning. “Modest, he was not,” declared Fauzia S. Rashid, a staff member who worked with him.

James David Wolfenson was born on December 1, 1933 and grew up in Sydney, Australia, where his parents, Hyman and Dora Wolfenson, moved from London in 1928. The family always included an older sister, Betty. Financial stress even though his father had at one time moved to the upper echelons of British society: he had met James Armand de Rothschild in the British Army and then served as his personal secretary, before falling, that the elder Mr. Wolfton had Never explained.

The family’s failure to establish itself in Australia weighs heavily on the young James from the age of 7, creating an obsession with monetary insecurity that lasts long into their adult lives.

As a child, Mr. Wolfenson “always had contingency plans in my head.” He narrated in his memoir. “I remember thinking that if I could only have 10 pounds, my life would be safe. As I grew older I would calculate on paper scraps and work out how long I could stay at 100 pounds if I only ate cheese and bread. “

After his years of initial academic failures related to grade level – he entered the University of Sydney at the age of 16 – Mr Wolfenson suddenly began working under the intense advice of a famous professor, Julius Stone, a friend of his father’s done. He graduated in 1954.

During law school Mr Wolfenson received a clerkship with a top Sydney firm, Alan Allen & Hemsley, where a colleague introduced him to fencing. Despite being tall and lean, mentioning Saber, he did well against the world-class Italian and British competitors before the Melbourne Olympics, by his own account, distracted and lost.

“The most exciting moment of his life was when he made the Olympics as a” colonial child lacking in confidence “, his wife, Ellen Wolfenson, put it in an interview for Obesity in January. “It had a huge impact on who he was, who he became.”

With full legal credentials, Mr. Wolfenson worked on a major antitrust case involving American companies and then decided to apply to Harvard Business School. He eventually flew to attend school for free due to his service in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve.

While studying there, he met Ellen Botvinik, a Vanesley senior who grew up in Manhattan and New Rochelle, NY They married in 1961 and had three children, Sarah, Naomi and Adam.

Ms. Wolfenson died At 83 in August. An advocate for education and the arts, she was a consultant to several boards of directors, including the Philharmonic Orchestra of Israel Friends at Columbia University and Teachers College. Thursday will be Wolfenson’s 59th wedding anniversary.

Mr. Wolfenson is survived by his children and seven grandchildren.

After a brief stint with the Swiss Cement Company, Mr. Wolfenson J. Henry returned to Australia to work at several banks, including Schroder, which sent him to run his headquarters in London and then his New York office. But when a blue-blood stronghold headed by Sholder was passed into London – he said the rejection had “shattered” his fragile sense of security – he sought out the Salomon Brothers.

“I was being thrown into the deep end of the toughest business in New York,” he said.

After his modest British salary, he said, the idea of ​​earning $ 2 million to $ 3 million a year was “both scary and exhilarating,” because it was his first job, which he called a financial safety net.

Mr. Wolfenson reorganized and created Salomon’s corporate department and helped save the Chrysler Corporation in 1979 through a massive government bailout – the largest in American history at the time. Some associates of the firm thought he had spent too much time on the Chrysler deal, however, and his relationship with Salomon soured.

He named Robert S., head of the World Bank. After McNamara left the firm, he said he had named Mr. Wolfenson on the list of people who might have succeeded him. To qualify for the position, Mr. Wolfenson quickly became an American citizen, only to see the job Alden W. Clausen. (Mr Wolfenson later acquired his Australian citizenship.)

Seizing the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of owning his own business, he took James D. Wolfenson Inc. opened a boutique Wall Street Advisory, which concluded immediately.

Luis V., chief executive officer of IBM and board member of the New York Times Company. There was a big deal after Gerstner Jr. asked if Mr. Wolfenson would help with the purchase of The Boston Globe.

“I felt proud that they had chosen us out of all the Wall Street firms, not because I had approached them, but because of our reputation for skill and integrity,” Mr. Wolfenson wrote in his memoir. “With the help of our distinguished neighbor and friend, Arthur (‘Punch’) Sulzberger, president and publisher of The New York Times, and his highly capable team, we made a successful transaction.”

Twenty years later, however, in a period of downsizing, The Times sold The Globe and other New England media assets for $ 70 million, down from $ 1.1 billion.

In 1980, Mr. Wolfenson became president of Carnegie Hall and helped raise $ 60 million to renovate it after donating $ 1 million. Ten years later he was invited to help in the rescue as president of the financially ill John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. As he wrote in his memoir, he found the Kennedy Center as a “white elephant” in need of physical repair and more energetic programming.

He also worked on his behalf for decades Institute for Advanced Study In Princeton, NJ, and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Mr Wolfenson was made an honorary officer of the Order of Australia in 1987 and received an honorary knighthood of the British Empire in 1995.

At an evening dinner party, Mr. Wolfenson, who was 42 at the time, impulsively stated that he always wanted to learn to play the cello. Miss du Pree made a delivery the next day and agreed to give her a lesson on the condition that she would play a concert on her 50th birthday.

Seven years later, Daniel Baranbeim, pianist and conductor (and Ms. Due Press’s husband) reminds him of his vows and tells him that a private performance will not be enough. The concert will be chamber music at Carnegie Hall, said Mr. Berenbim, who said Mr. Wolfenson, who had never played chamber music and never played in public. The hall was reserved; His birthday will be on December 1, 1983.

After a year of intensive practice, sometimes in hotel rooms around the world – all leading to performances like Walter Mitty before an audience of hundreds. He was accompanied on stage by violinist Isaac Stern, pianist Vladimir Ashkenazi and other musical royalty; The program included works by Hayden and Shuman.

Similar concerts took place at Mr. Wolfenson’s 60th and 70th birthdays, at the Library of Congress as well as Carnegie Hall.

Upon joining the World Bank in 1995, Mr. Wolfenson divested his stake in his Wall Street firm, where he held Mr. A. Paul A. after Volcker retired as President of the Federal Reserve. When his partners sold the firm to Bankers Trust Company for $ 210 million, Mr. Wolfenson invoked a clause in his own sale agreement to put $ 45 million in bank stock, half of which he and His wife gave a family foundation to support. Arts, Culture and Health Care.

Ten years later, when he stepped out of the World Bank, Mr. Wolfenson formed another boutique consultant, Wolfenson & Company.

His last major undertaking was in the mid-2000s as a special envoy known as the quartet, which was composed of the United Nations, the United States, the Russian Federation and the European Union – which led to Israeli-Palestinian peace Was demanding The deal in which Israel would disband from the Gaza Strip. If the deal was reached, it was meant to help the Palestinian authorities coordinate the revitalization efforts after occupying the area. At that time the U.N. said.

However, the negotiations failed.

“Middle East,” Mr. Wolfenson said solemnly, “my mission became impossible.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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