James Wolfensohn

James David Wolfensohn, KBE, AO (born 1 December 1933) is an Australian-American lawyer, investment banker, and economist who served as the ninth president of the World Bank Group (1995–2005). When Wolfensohn took over at the World Bank in 1995, he viewed himself as a spiritual successor to a former World Bank chief, Robert McNamara. He was born in Sydney, Australia, and is a graduate of the University of Sydney and Harvard Business School; he was also an Olympic fencer. He worked for various companies in Britain and the United States before forming his own investment firm. Wolfensohn became an American citizen in 1980, requiring him to renounce his Australian citizenship although he eventually regained it in 2010. He served two terms as President of the World Bank on the nomination of U.S. President Bill Clinton, and has since held various positions with charitable organisations.

James Wolfensohn
James D. Wolfensohn 2003.jpg
President of the World Bank Group
In office
1 June 1995 – 1 June 2005
Preceded byErnest Stern (Acting)
Succeeded byPaul Wolfowitz
Personal details
Born (1933-12-01) 1 December 1933 (age 86)
Sydney, Australia
EducationUniversity of Sydney (BA, LLB)
Harvard University (MBA)
WebsiteOfficial website

Early life and educationEdit

Wolfensohn was born on 1 December 1933 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. His father Hyman (known as Bill) was born in London to Austrian-Jewish immigrants, while his mother Dora was born in Belgium to Polish parents.[1][2] His father was a "highly intelligent but failed businessman"[3] who had previously worked for the Rothschild banking family. Wolfensohn's parents arrived in Australia in 1928. He was named after James Armand de Rothschild, his father's former employer, whose birthday he shared.[4]

Wolfensohn grew up in a two-bedroom flat in Edgecliff. His father struggled financially, and in his autobiography, A Global Life, he described how monetary insecurity was a fact of life from childhood and explained that he was always looking for a cushion to protect himself from it.[4] Wolfensohn attended Woollahra Public School,[4] and then Sydney Boys High School. He entered the University of Sydney at the age of 16, graduating Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Laws (LLB). In 1959 he earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Harvard Business School. In his 2010 memoirs he reveals that he failed several university classes, including English, and was a "late developer".

Wolfensohn was a member of the Australian fencing team at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne[5] and an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force.[6]

Business careerEdit

Before attending Harvard, Wolfensohn was a lawyer in the Australian law firm of Allen, Allen & Hemsley in Sydney (now Allens Arthur Robinson). Upon graduating from Harvard Business School, Wolfensohn worked briefly for Swiss cement giant Holderbank (now Holcim).[7]

He returned to Australia, where he worked for various banking institutions, including Darling & Co. In the late 1960s, he became a director of Darling's major shareholder J. Henry Schroder & Co, a London-based investment bank.[4] He was a senior executive in the London office before becoming managing director of the bank's New York City office from 1970-76. He later became a senior executive at Salomon Brothers. In 1979, together with Chrysler Corporation's then chief executive officer Lee Iacocca and then President of the New York Fed Paul A. Volcker, who later became Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Wolfensohn helped orchestrate the rescue of Chrysler from the verge of bankruptcy.[8]

In 1980, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States, after it was rumored that he was a candidate to succeed Robert McNamara as president of the World Bank. After he was unsuccessful in this pursuit, he established his own investment firm, James D. Wolfensohn, Inc., along with partners including Paul Volcker. Upon accepting his nomination to serve as president of the World Bank in 1995, Wolfensohn divested of his ownership interest in James D. Wolfensohn, Inc. The firm was later bought by Bankers Trust.[9]

In 2005, upon stepping down as president of the World Bank, he founded Wolfensohn & Company, LLC, a privately held firm that invests, and provides strategic consulting advice to governments and large corporations doing business, in emerging market economies.[citation needed]

Since 2006, Wolfensohn has also been the chairman of the International Advisory Board of Citigroup.[9] In 2009, he became a member of the International Advisory Council of the Chinese sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corporation.[10]

Among James Wolfensohn's clients have Russian banks and business leaders. VTB Bank has sought to improve its standing, recently appointing former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn as an adviser to its board. But VTB has had to fend off claims that it is a “pocket bank” of the government, largely because of its $1.3bn purchase last year of more than 5 per cent in EADS, the troubled French aerospace group. Oleg Deripaska also agreed to “support” a hedge fund run by the former president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, by investing in it through an offshore shell company, according to one filing. Through his assistant, Mr. Wolfensohn declined to comment. A spokesman in Moscow for one of Mr. Deripaska’s companies did not respond to questions about the business dealings.

The firm, Amerilink Telecom Corp., recruited former congressional leader Richard Gephardt and former World Bank President James Wolfensohn as directors in 2010. It hoped the appointments would help overcome U.S. officials' skepticism about Huawei, which has hired Amerilink as a consultant and distribution partner.

Huawei is one of the world's top suppliers of telecom gear, but alleged ties to the Chinese military have stymied its ambitions in the U.S. market.

World Bank tenure and other public serviceEdit

Wolfensohn (left) with U.S. President George W. Bush in the Oval Office, 2005.
Nigerian artist Ibiyinka Alao and James D. Wolfensohn in Washington DC
Wolfensohn speaking at a press conference with Condoleezza Rice in 2006.

Wolfensohn became president of the World Bank on 1 July 1995 after he was nominated by U.S. President Bill Clinton. He was unanimously supported by the bank's board of executive directors to a second five-year term in 2000, becoming the third person to serve two terms in the position after Eugene R. Black and Robert McNamara. He visited more than 120 countries around the world during his term as president. "China never borrowed less than $3 billion a year during my tenure. They were the most significant client.” He is credited, among other things, with being the first World Bank president to bring attention to the problem of corruption in the area of development financing.[11]

On 4 September 2004, Wolfensohn brought attention to Contemporary Africa when he hosted the award-winning visual artist Ibiyinka Alao during the show "Visions and Vignettes" presented by the World Bank Art Program.

On 3 January 2005, Wolfensohn announced he would not seek a third term as president. During his term, the Alfalfa Club named him as their nominee for President of the United States in 2000 as part of a long-standing tradition, despite being constitutionally ineligible due to the natural-born citizen clause in Article II of the United States Constitution.[12] He serves as an advisor to the Grassroots Business Fund[13]

Mideast envoyEdit

In April 2005, Wolfensohn was appointed special envoy for Gaza disengagement by the Quartet on the Middle East, a group of major powers and the United Nations promoting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.[14] He resigned after 11 months as special envoy when he understood the United States government to be undermining his efforts and firing his staff.[15]

According to James Wolfensohn, the major blame for the failure of his Middle East mission lies with him. "I feel that if anything, I was stupid for not reading the small print," he admits. "I was never given the mandate to negotiate the peace."

Civic and charitable activitiesEdit

In 2006, Wolfensohn founded the Wolfensohn Center for Development at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.[16] The center examined how to implement, scale up, and sustain development interventions to solve key development challenges at a national, regional, and global level and strives to bridge the gap between development theorists and practitioners. Its projects focused on youth exclusion in the Middle East, large-scale anti-poverty programs, reforms of global economic governance, and regional cooperation, particularly in Central Asia. The Center concluded work after five years.[17]

Wolfensohn is an honorary trustee of the Brookings Institution, and served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation. He is a trustee and the former chairman of the board of trustees of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is chairman emeritus of Carnegie Hall in New York and of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He serves on the board of various charitable foundations, including the Wolfensohn Family Foundation. In July 2008, Wolfensohn was selected as one of the inaugural fellows of the Australian Institute of International Affairs.[citation needed]

Between 1985 and 2015 Wolfensohn has attended 27 conferences of the Bilderberg Group, making him one of the most frequent participants in this time period. He also attended meetings of the Aspen Institute and the World Economic Forum. He is a former member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group.[18] In 2004, Wolfensohn was the commencement speaker at Brandeis University.[19] Wolfensohn sits on the board of Endeavor (non-profit). He is a member of the Honorary Board of the International Paralympic Committee.[20]

Personal lifeEdit

Wolfensohn is married to Elaine Botwinick, and has three children and seven grandchildren. In October 2010, he regained his Australian citizenship.[21]

In New York, he found himself at a Jerusalem Foundation lunch next to Dorothy de Rothschild, widow of James. She could not tell him why his father suddenly had left Rothschild six decades earlier. But he was reassured that his father had been a "wonderful man".[4]

Wolfensohn, a friend of Jacqueline du Pré, began cello studies with her at the age of 41 when she offered to teach him on the condition that he perform on his 50th birthday at Carnegie Hall in New York City, which he did. He repeated the exercise on his 60th and 70th birthdays with Yo-Yo Ma and Bono. He continues to play and has appeared, together with musician friends, at private events at Carnegie Hall and elsewhere.[4]


Wolfensohn in 2000

Wolfensohn has received numerous awards throughout his life, including becoming an honorary officer of the Order of Australia in 1987,[22] and an honorary knighthood of the Order of the British Empire in 1995 for his service to the arts. The University of New South Wales conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Science in 2006 and received the Award of Excellence from The International Center in New York.[citation needed]

In 2006, Wolfensohn received the Leo Baeck Medal for his humanitarian work promoting tolerance and social justice. In 2011, Wolfensohn was awarded the Golden Biatec Award, the highest award bestowed by Slovakia's Informal Economic Forum - Economic Club, for his contribution to addressing global priorities.[23]

He is a member of both the American Academy of Arts & Sciences [24] and the American Philosophical Society.[25]

At the 2016 Summer Olympics Wolfensohn was inducted into the Olympians for Life project.[26]

Further readingEdit

  • James D. Wolfensohn: "Social Development", in: Frank-Jürgen Richter, Pamela Mar: Asia’s New Crisis, John Wiley 2004; ISBN 0-470-82129-9
  • Sebastian Mallaby (2004) The World's Banker. Critical biography by former Economist writer and Washington Post contributor, emphasis on World Bank; ISBN 1-59420-023-8.
  • James D. Wolfensohn and Andrew Kircher (2005) Voice for the World's Poor: Selected Speeches and Writings of World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, 1995–2005; ISBN 978-0-8213-6156-6. Collection of speeches, articles, memoranda and op-eds.
  • James D. Wolfensohn (2010). A Global Life: My Journey among Rich and Poor, from Wall Street to the World Bank, p. 96. Pan MacMillan; ISBN 978-1-58648-255-8


  1. ^ "The people's plutocrat". The Guardian. 13 June 1999. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  2. ^ James Lagan (9 October 2010). "James Wolfensohn: banker to the world". Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  3. ^ "Elvis of economics takes a bow". The Observer. 20 March 2005. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Stutchbury, Michael (30 October 2010), "The man who inherited the Rothschild legend", The Australian, Australia, p. 11, retrieved 30 October 2010
  5. ^ "James Wolfensohn Olympic Results". sports-reference.com. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
  6. ^ World Bank biography; retrieved 7 May 2008
  7. ^ James D. Wolfensohn (2010). A Global Life: My Journey among Rich and Poor, from Wall Street to the World Bank, p. 96. Pan MacMillan; ISBN 978-1-58648-255-8
  8. ^ Joseph B. Treaster (2004). "Paul Volcker: The Making of a Financial Legend." Chapter 10: Fly-Fishing. John Wiley & Sons; ISBN 0-471-42812-4.
  9. ^ a b Profile, citigroup.com; accessed 1 April 2014.
  10. ^ China Investment Corporation website Archived 23 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine; accessed 1 April 2014.
  11. ^ James D. Wolfensohn, Annual Meeting Address, 1 October 1996, World Bank website; retrieved 4 July 2014.
  12. ^ NNDb profile; retrieved 21 May 2006.
  13. ^ Grassroots Business Fund: Governing Board and Advisors Archived 10 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine; retrieved 1 April 2014.
  14. ^ U.S. Department of State, 14 April 2005, "Remarks on the Appointment of James Wolfensohn as Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement," https://2001-2009.state.gov/secretary/rm/2005/44641.htm
  15. ^ Haaretz, 19 July 2007, "'All the Dreams We Had Are Now Gone,'" http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/all-the-dreams-we-had-are-now-gone-1.225828
  16. ^ "Gift to Help Create Center on Poverty", nytimes.com; 16 May 2005; retrieved 16 March 2007.
  17. ^ Wolfensohn Center for Development, Brookings Institution website; retrieved 26 May 2012.
  18. ^ "Former Steering Committee Members". bilderbergmeetings.org. Bilderberg Group. Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ "Honorary Board". IPC.
  21. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, "Banker to the world". Retrieved 23 April 2014
  22. ^ WOLFENSOHN, James David profile, itsanhonour.gov.au; retrieved 11 February 2008.
  23. ^ Golden Biatec Award awarded to Wolfensohn, hospodarskyklub.sk; accessed 1 April 2014.
  24. ^ "American Academy of Arts & Sciences" (PDF).
  25. ^ "American Philosophical Society". Archived from the original on 5 March 2017.
  26. ^ https://olympians.org/news/723/olympians-for-life-project-proves-popular-at-olympians-reunion-centre-by-ey/

External linksEdit



  • [2] Iraq: Paris Club Debt Relief. CRS Report for Congress. Updated 19 January 2005

"Iraq’s debts needed to be reduced by 33%, from roughly $120 billion to $80 billion in order to fund reconstruction needs and long-term economic development."

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Ernest Stern
President of the World Bank Group
Succeeded by
Paul Wolfowitz