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Peter George Peterson
|Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations|
September 1, 1985 – June 30, 2007
|Preceded by||David Rockefeller|
|Succeeded by||Carla Hills|
|20th United States Secretary of Commerce|
February 29, 1972 – February 1, 1973
|Preceded by||Maurice Stans|
|Succeeded by||Frederick Dent|
June 5, 1926
Kearney, Nebraska, U.S.
|Died||March 20, 2018 (aged 91)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
(m. 1948; div. 1950)
(m. 1953; div. 1979)
Joan Ganz Cooney (m. 1980)
|Children||5, including Holly|
|Education||Northwestern University (BA)|
University of Chicago (MBA)
|Known for||Co-Founder and Chairman of The Blackstone Group, Chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers, Chairman and CEO of Bell & Howell|
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. Before serving as Secretary of Commerce, Peterson was Chairman and CEO of Bell & Howell from 1963 to 1971. From 1973 to 1984 he was Chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers. In 1985 he co-founded the private equity firm, The Blackstone Group, and served as Chairman. Peterson was Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations until retiring in 2007, after being named Chairman Emeritus. In 2008, Peterson was ranked 149th on the "Forbes 400 Richest Americans" with a net worth of $2.8 billion. He was also known as founder and principal funder of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting fiscal sustainability.
Peterson was born in Kearney, Nebraska, as the eldest of three children to Venetia "Venet" Paul and George Peterson, both were immigrants from southern Greece. He had one younger sister, Elaine, who died of croup when she was one year old and a brother, John, who was the youngest. His father arrived in the United States at the age of 17 and worked as a dishwasher for Union Pacific Railroad and roomed on a caboose. In 1923, George opened and then ran a Greek diner named Central Café in Kearney after changing his name from Georgios Petropoulos. Peter began working at the cash register at age 8. Transferring out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in his freshman year, Peterson later received an undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and The Kellogg School, graduating in 1947 with highest academic honors, summa cum laude. After college, Peterson was first married from 1948 to 1950 to Kris Krengel, a journalism student at Northwestern University. He joined Market Facts upon graduation, a Chicago-based market research firm, in 1948. In 1951, he received an M.B.A. degree from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, before returning to Market Facts as an executive vice president.
Peterson joined advertising agency McCann Erickson in 1953, again in Chicago, where he served as a director. He joined movie-equipment maker Bell and Howell Corporation in 1958 as Executive Vice President. He later succeeded Charles H. Percy as Chairman and CEO, positions he held from 1963 to 1971.
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. Among its recommendations adopted by the government were that foundations be required annually to disburse a minimum proportion of their funds.
In 1972, he became the Secretary of Commerce, a position he held for one year. At that time he also assumed the Chairmanship of President Nixon’s National Commission on Productivity and was appointed U.S. Chairman of the U.S.–Soviet Commercial Commission. During his tenure, Peterson was a strong critic of the rising financial debt of the United States.
In 1985, he co-founded with Stephen A. Schwarzman the prominent private equity and investment management firm, the Blackstone Group, and was for many years its chairman. 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.
In 1992, he was one of the co-founders of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan citizens' group that advocates reduction of the federal budget deficit. Following record deficits under President George W. Bush, Peterson commented in 2004, "I remain a Republican, but the Republicans have become a far more theological, faith-directed party, not troubling with evidence."
In February 1994, President Bill Clinton named Peterson as a member of the Bi-Partisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform co-chaired by Senators Bob Kerrey and John Danforth. He also served as Co-Chair of the Conference Board Commission on Public Trust and Private Enterprises (Co-Chaired by John Snow).
Peterson succeeded David Rockefeller as Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations in 1985 and served until his retirement from that position in 2007. 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.
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. He was also Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York between 2000 and 2004.
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. PGPF distributed the 2008 documentary film I.O.U.S.A., and did outreach to the 2008 presidential candidates.
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. Fiscal Times contributors and editors include several veteran economics reporters for The New York Times and The Washington Post.
On August 4, 2010, it was announced that he 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. 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.
He was married three times and divorced twice. 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 four sons: John Scott Peterson, James Jim Peterson, David Peterson and Michael Alexander Peterson; and one daughter, the writer Holly Peterson. They divorced in 1979. The following year, Peterson married Joan Ganz Cooney, the co-founder of the popular American educational children's television series, Sesame Street.
In his autobiography he recalled his business and private life in which he blamed himself for the failure of two of his three marriages but expressed pride for having grown close to his children.
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. The same year he was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
| United States Secretary of Commerce