Haverford College, from which he had graduated and where he served on the board of managers, announced his death, saying the cause was cancer.
“He was a towering figure in both business and finance,” said J.P. Donlon, editor in chief of Chief Executive magazine. “They don’t make folks like him anymore—people who not only lead their company, but lead their industry as well. He will be missed.”
“He was not just active in 20 of our CEO Summits – when he spoke, people listened,” said Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, Senior Associate Dean for Leadership Studies and Lester Crown Professor of Leadership Practice at the Yale School of Management. Sonnenfeld was the first John Whitehead Faculty Fellow at the Harvard Business School, “and I have felt a special bond with him for almost four decades.”
At each program, Sonnenfeld continued, “John was a font of wisdom, a pillar of integrity, and a champion of government budget reform. As a pioneering financier, he launched early IPO and M&A initiatives as well as fortified key client oriented cultural values among his partners. John was a bold patriot, having fought – incredibly on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima – the two most iconic battles of both theaters of war in WWII but never bragged about his service. He also showed his courage, jumping in to Hank Greenberg’s defense when under attack at AIG – staring down reported threats from Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. He was a rare demonstration of impeccable leadership character; loyal patriotism, and selfless friendship.”
The columnist Liz Smith once called Mr. Whitehead the “chairman of the establishment.” He helped pilot Goldman Sachs to the forefront of investment banking and led the boards of Harvard, the Asia Society and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, among other institutions. As deputy secretary of state in the Reagan administration, he helped wean the countries of Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union.
His connections were so broad, he said, that in 10 minutes of conversation with “just about anyone,” he could find “a mutual friend we both know well.”
Read more: The New York Times