John Birkelund arrived at Dillon Read in September 1981. Born in Glencoe, Illinois,
he had graduated from Princeton and then had joined the Navy where he served with
the Office of Naval Intelligence in Berlin. While in Europe he became friends with
Edward Stinnes, who recruited him after a short career with Booz Allen in Chicago
to work in New York for the Rothschild family, considered to be one of if not the
wealthiest family in the world.
He started at Amsterdam Overseas Corporation, which then moved its venture capital
business into New Court Securities with Birkelund as co-founder. New Court was owned
by the Rothschild banks in Paris and London, Pierson Heldring Pierson in Amsterdam
and the management. Their venture successes included Cray Research, inventor of the
high-powered computers by that name, and Federal Express, the courier company based
in Memphis which is the largest recipient of Federal government contracts in Tennessee.
A Time Magazine story from December 1981, The Rothschilds Are Roving
describes a decision by the French Rothschilds in response to the nationalization
of Banque Rothschild by President Mitterrand to move significant operations and focus
to the U.S. Time reports that they are changing the name of their aggressive
venture capital firm, New Court Securities to Rothschild, Inc. and are taking over
from the current CEO, John Birkelund.
|John Birkelund, Chairman and CEO of Dillon,
Read & Co. Inc. (Photo courtesy Columbia University)
Birkelund was tall and energetic. He had piercing blue eyes, a driving and hard
working ambition and intelligence. He seemed frustrated by the process of organizing
and invigorating Dillons club-like culture. There was much about his willingness
to try that endeared him to me a point of view that was not reciprocated. Whatever
the reason, I was not Birkelunds cup of tea. I will never forget one of his
early addresses to the banking group. He was full of energy and launched a section
of his pep talk, When you get up in the morning and look into the mirror to
shave... He suddenly froze, looking at me (one of few or possibly the only woman
in the room) with fear that his reference to a masculine practice would offend. In
the hopes of putting him at ease, I said with merriment, Dont worry, John,
girls shave too. The whole room burst out laughing and John turned red.
|Cruising the Florida Keys 1984
Then Vice President George H.W. Bush, former CIA Director who led the
National Security Council during Iran Contra (second from left), photographed with
Nicholas F. Brady, then Chairman of the Wall Street firm Dillon Read, lead investment
banker for RJR Tobacco, and later U.S. Treasury Secretary (third from left).
(White House Photo)
Birkelund had his hands full after arriving at Dillon Read. In 1982, Nick Brady
left temporarily to serve in the U.S. Senate, appointed by Governor Tom Kean of New
Jersey to serve out Harrison Williams term. George Schultz left Bechtel to serve as
Secretary of State under Reagan. With Brady and Schultz in Washington D.C., the Bechtel
relationship stalled. With Brady returning in 1983, Birkelund engineered the repurchase
of the firm from Sequoia by the partners and the creation of meaningful venture and
leveraged buyout efforts. In 1986, Brady and Birkelund lead the sale of Dillon Read
to Travelers, the large Connecticut insurance company that later became part of Citigroup.
The relationship with Travelers expanded our capital resources to participate in the
venture capital and leveraged buyout businesses. In no small part thanks to Birkelunds
hard work and dictatorial cajoling, Dillon Read would not be left behind in the 1980s
One of my favorite Dillon Read officers was the son of a former Dillon chairman
and, thus, remarkably wise about the ways of the firm. I sought him out after a Birkelund
temper tantrum and said that Birkelund was not at all like a Brady Man
and that I was surprised at Nicks choice. My colleague looked at me with surprise
and said something to the effect of Brady did not choose Birkelund. Birkelund
is a 'Rothschild Man'. I then said something about Dillon being owned by the
Dillon partners, so what did the Rothschilds have to do with us? My colleague
rolled his eyes and walked away as if I was an interloper out of my league among the
moneyed classes clueless as to who and what was really in charge at Dillon
Read and in the world.
After all, even Time Magazine had declared that the Rothschild invasion
of America was underway.