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Peter G. Peterson

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Peter G. Peterson
Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations
In office
September 1, 1985 – June 30, 2007
Preceded byDavid Rockefeller
Succeeded byCarla Hills
Robert Rubin
20th United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
February 29, 1972 – February 1, 1973
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byMaurice Stans
Succeeded byFrederick B. Dent
Personal details
Peter Petropoulos[1]

(1926-06-05)June 5, 1926
Kearney, Nebraska, U.S.
DiedMarch 20, 2018(2018-03-20) (aged 91)
New York City, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Kris Krengel
(m. 1948; div. 1950)
Sally Hornbogen
(m. 1953; div. 1979)
(m. 1980)
Children5, including Holly
EducationNorthwestern University (BA)
University of Chicago (MBA)

Peter George Peterson (June 5, 1926 – March 20, 2018) was an American investment banker who served as United States Secretary of Commerce from February 29, 1972, to February 1, 1973, under the Richard Nixon administration.[1][2][3] Peterson was also chairman and CEO of Bell & Howell from 1963 to 1971.[4] From 1973 to 1984 he was chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers.[4] In 1985, he co-founded the private equity firm The Blackstone Group, and served as chairman.[5] In the same year, Peterson became chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, a position he held until his retirement in 2007, after which he was named chairman emeritus.[4] In 2008, Peterson was ranked 149th on the "Forbes 400 Richest Americans" with a net worth of $2.8 billion.[4][5] He was also known as founder and principal funder of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting fiscal austerity.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Peterson was born in Kearney, Nebraska, as the eldest of three children[1] to Venetia "Venet" Paul[7] (Παύλου Pavlou) and George Peterson (Πετρόπουλος Petropoulos); both were immigrants from southern Greece.[8][2] He had one younger sister, Elaine, who died of croup when she was one year old,[2] and a brother, John, who was the youngest.[3] His father arrived in the United States at age 17 and worked as a dishwasher for Union Pacific Railroad and roomed on a caboose.[2] In 1923, George opened and then ran a Greek diner, Central Café, in Kearney[2] after changing his name from Georgios Petropoulos. Peter began working at the cash register at age 8.[2] Expelled from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for plagiarizing a term paper in his freshman year, Peterson enrolled at Northwestern University and The Kellogg School, graduating in 1947 with highest academic honors, summa cum laude.[2][9] Peterson was first married from 1948 to 1950 to Kris Krengel, a journalism student at Northwestern University.[10] He joined Market Facts upon graduation, a Chicago-based market research firm, in 1948.[11] In 1951, he received an M.B.A. degree from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, before returning to Market Facts as an executive vice president.[2]

Business career[edit]

Peterson joined advertising agency McCann Erickson in 1953, again in Chicago, where he served as a director.[4] He joined movie-equipment maker Bell and Howell Corporation in 1958 as executive vice president.[5] He later succeeded Charles H. Percy as chairman and CEO, positions he held from 1963 to 1971.[4]

In 1969, he was invited by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller III, CFR Chairman John J. McCloy, and former Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon to chair a Commission on Foundations and Private Philanthropy, which became known as the Peterson Commission.[2] Among its recommendations adopted by the government were that foundations be required annually to disburse a minimum proportion of their funds.[4]

United States Secretary of Commerce (1972–73)[edit]

Peterson in a group photo of Nixon's cabinet on June 16, 1972, third from the left on the bottom row.

In 1971, he was named assistant to the president for international economic affairs by U.S. President Richard Nixon.[1] In April 1971, Peterson produced a secret report for Nixon on the volatile world economy that argued that the U.S. was in economic decline under the existing world order of trade, which the U.S. had helped build immediately after World War II. To stem that decline, according to Peterson, the U.S. must challenge competing nations in the trading sphere by adopting industrial policy. The report impressed Nixon and the idea of American competitive decline soon became "an article of popular belief". The report established some of the intellectual foundations of Nixon's decision in August 1971 to upend the Bretton Woods agreement. Professional economists derided the thesis as a form of mercantilism that betrayed "economic illiteracy".[12]

In 1972, Peterson became Secretary of Commerce, a position he held for one year.[2] At that time he also assumed the chairmanship of Nixon's National Commission on Productivity and was appointed U.S. Chairman of the U.S.–Soviet Commercial Commission.[2] During his tenure, Peterson was a strong critic of the rising financial debt of the United States.[1]

Post-Washington career[edit]

Peterson was chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers (1973–1977) and Lehman Brothers, Kuhn, Loeb Inc. (1977–1984).[13]

In 1985, Peterson and Stephen A. Schwarzman co-founded the private equity and investment management firm the Blackstone Group, and for many years Peterson was its chairman.[14] At Blackstone, he made a fortune, including the $1.9 billion he received when it went public in 2007, that funded many of his charitable and political causes.[15][16]

Peterson swearing in, Cmdr. Pam Chelgren-Koterba, the first woman officer of the NOAA Corps (1972).

Clinton presidency[edit]

In 1992, he was one of the co-founders of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan citizens' organization that advocates reduction of the federal budget deficit.[17] Following record deficits under President George W. Bush, Peterson said in 2004, "I remain a Republican, but the Republicans have become a far more theological, faith-directed party, not troubling with evidence."[17]

In February 1994, President Bill Clinton named Peterson as a member of the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform co-chaired by Senators Bob Kerrey and John Danforth.[2] He also served as co-chair of the Conference Board Commission on Public Trust and Private Enterprises (co-chaired by John Snow).[1]

Later career[edit]

Peterson succeeded David Rockefeller as chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations in 1985 and served until his retirement from that position in 2007.[5] He served as trustee of the Rockefeller family's Japan Society and of the Museum of Modern Art, and was previously on the board of Rockefeller Center Properties, Inc.[5][4]

He was the founding chairman of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (formerly the "Institute for International Economics", renamed in his honor in 2006), and a trustee of the Committee for Economic Development.[5] He was also chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York between 2000 and 2004.[5]

In 2008, he founded the Peter G. Peterson Foundation (PGPF), an organization devoted to spreading public awareness on fiscal sustainability issues related to the national debt, federal deficits, Social Security policy, and tax policies.[2] PGPF distributed the 2008 documentary film I.O.U.S.A. and did outreach to the 2008 presidential candidates.[18]

Peterson funded The Fiscal Times, a news website that reports on current economic issues, including the federal budget, the deficit, entitlements, health care, personal savings, taxation, and the global economy.[1] Fiscal Times contributors and editors include several veteran economics reporters for The New York Times and The Washington Post.[1][2]

On August 4, 2010, it was announced that Peterson had signed "The Giving Pledge". He was one of 40 billionaires, led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who agreed to give at least half their wealth to charity.[19] Most of his giving was to his own foundation, The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which focuses on raising public awareness about long-term fiscal sustainability issues.[2]

Political activities[edit]

From 2007 through 2011, Peterson was reported to have contributed $458 million to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, to promote the cause of fiscal responsibility.[20]

Peterson opposed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 because it cut corporate and other taxes by raising the debt. "Mortgaging our fiscal future for trillions in temporary tax cuts will hurt our economy over time, and every C.E.O. should know that", he said. "True business patriots need to advocate for their country as well as their company."[21]

Personal life[edit]

Peterson was married three times and divorced twice.[3] In 1953, he married former Brown University psychology professor Sally Hornbogen Peterson, a trustee of the Dalton School and a graduate of Northwestern University, with whom he had five children: John Scott Peterson, James Jim Peterson, David Peterson, Michael Alexander Peterson,[7] and the writer Holly Peterson.[22][23] They divorced in 1979.[22] The next year, Peterson married Joan Ganz Cooney, the co-creator of the popular American educational children's television series Sesame Street.[24]

In his autobiography, Peterson recalled his business and private life and blamed himself for the failure of two of his three marriages but expressed pride for having grown close to his children.[25]

Peterson died on March 20, 2018, at age 91, of natural causes at his Manhattan home.[1][2][3] He is survived by his children, his wife Joan, and nine grandchildren.


In 1962, Peterson received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[26]

In recognition of his support, the influential[27] Peterson Institute for International Economics was named in his honor in 2006.[5]

In 2006, Peterson was honored with the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution.[1] The same year he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[20]



  • Facing Up: How to Rescue the Economy from Crushing Debt and Restore the American Dream. Simon & Schuster; First Edition (November 8, 1993). ISBN 978-0-671-79642-6
  • Will America Grow up Before it Grows Old: How the Coming Social Security Crisis Threatens You, Your Family and Your Country. Random House; 1 edition (October 8, 1996). ISBN 978-0-679-45256-0
  • Gray Dawn: How the Coming Age Wave Will Transform America—and the World. Three Rivers Press (September 26, 2000). ISBN 978-0-8129-9069-0
  • On Borrowed Time: How the Growth in Entitlement Spending Threatens America's Future with Neil Howe. Transaction Publishers (May 1, 2004). ISBN 978-0-7658-0575-1
  • Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It. Picador (June 16, 2005). ISBN 978-0-312-42462-6
  • The Education of an American Dreamer: How a Son of Greek Immigrants Learned His Way from a Nebraska Diner to Washington, Wall Street, and Beyond. Twelve (June 8, 2009). ISBN 978-0-446-55603-3


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Stout, David (March 20, 2018). "Peter G. Peterson, financier who warned of rising national debt, dies at 91". Washington Post.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Peter G. Peterson, a Power From Wall St. to Washington, Dies at 91". The New York Times. March 20, 2018. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "Greek-American Billionaire Peter G. Peterson Passed Away at 91". The National Herald. 22 March 2018. Archived from the original on 25 March 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Peter Peterson, Blackstone Co-Founder, Dies At 91". The Wall Street Journal. March 20, 2018. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Pete Peterson, Lehman Exile, Blackstone Billionaire, Dies at 91". Bloomberg. March 20, 2018. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  6. ^ "Resource Library Search". www.pgpf.org.
  7. ^ a b "Peter G. Peterson". NNDB.
  8. ^ Vexler, Robert I (1975). The Vice-Presidents and Cabinet members: Biographies arranged chronologically by Administration. Oceana Publications. ISBN 9780379120905. Peter Peterson Kearney Nebraska.
  9. ^ "Peterson Chair in Corporate Ethics established". Northwestern University.
  10. ^ Peterson, Peter G. (June 8, 2009). The Education of an American Dreamer. Twelve. pp. 52–68. ISBN 978-0446556033.
  11. ^ "Peter G. Peterson". Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Archived from the original on 2018-03-21. Retrieved 2012-10-30.
  12. ^ Matusow, Allen J. (1998). Nixon's Economy: Booms, Busts, Dollars, & Votes. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas. pp. 132–139. ISBN 0-7006-0888-5. OCLC 37975682.
  13. ^ Ken Auletta, Greed and Glory on Wall Street: The Fall of the House of Lehman, search pages, (Random House, December 12, 1985), ISBN 1-58567-088-X[page needed]
  14. ^ David Carey & John E. Morris, King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone, (Crown 2010), pp. 45–56
  15. ^ Blackstone IPO Prospectus
  16. ^ King of Capital, p. 5
  17. ^ a b Robert Kuttner (December 26, 2004). "What Killed Off The GOP Deficit Hawks?". Bloomberg.
  18. ^ Bryan Bender, Movement warns of US bankruptcy, Seeks support for overhaul of federal budget, The Boston Globe, July 10, 2008.
  19. ^ "Peterson".
  20. ^ a b Grim, Ryan; Blumenthal, Paul (May 15, 2012). "What Half A Billion Dollars Buys You In Washington". Huffington Post.
  21. ^ C.E.O. Deficit Fears Dissolve With the Prospect of Corporate Tax Cuts. By ANDREW ROSS SORKIN. New York Times. NOV. 20, 2017
  22. ^ a b Sicilia, David A. (August 30, 2003). Robert Sobel (ed.). The United States Executive Branch: A Biographical Directory of Heads of State and Cabinet Officials. Vol. M–Z. Greenwood Press. p. 407. ISBN 978-0313325946.
  23. ^ "WEDDINGS; Holly Peterson, Richard A. Kimball Jr". The New York Times. 1994-09-11. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  24. ^ "Answers - The Most Trusted Place for Answering Life's Questions". Answers.
  25. ^ Hurt, Hary (June 20, 2009). "Go East, Young Man, and Make Your Fortune". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2012.
  26. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  27. ^ James G. McGann (Director) (January 20, 2012). "The Global Go To Think Tank Report, 2011" (PDF). Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 31, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2014.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by United States Secretary of Commerce
Succeeded by