A Life in Leadership

A Life in Leadership

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by John C. Whitehead

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John Whitehead began life in Montclair, New Jersey, as a child of the Depression and went on to lead an exemplary life in the years of the Greatest Generation. In this intimate, charming autobiography, he shares his stories and the lessons he’s learned about quiet leadership.He describes how on D-Day he commanded one of the landing crafts at Omaha Beach, and


John Whitehead began life in Montclair, New Jersey, as a child of the Depression and went on to lead an exemplary life in the years of the Greatest Generation. In this intimate, charming autobiography, he shares his stories and the lessons he’s learned about quiet leadership.He describes how on D-Day he commanded one of the landing crafts at Omaha Beach, and witnessed one of the greatest battles in American military history. Later, in his role as co-chair of Goldman Sachs, he was one of the pioneers of the globalization of international finance that was to change the face of American business. In 1985, Whitehead was appointed Deputy Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan and became the architect of the Reagan administration’s successful efforts to wean the countries of Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union and to open up space there for the democratic movements that eventually resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall.Most recently, he was appointed by New York Governor George Pataki as Chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is charged with the task of rebuilding Ground Zero. Whitehead provides a first-hand account of the difficult decisions the LMDC has made in meeting its goals of re-developing lower Manhattan and honoring the victims of 9/11 as the capstone of his remarkable career.

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A business executive and diplomat recalls a long life of service, including recent work, post-9/11, as head of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Whitehead grew up in the Depression, a matter he revisits late in his account, when, as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, he warns that the stock market bubble of the mid-1990s "could lead only to one result: a terrible crash." Headed for a career as a college admissions officer, Whitehead opted for business instead, just when WWII broke out. Trained as a naval accountant, he found himself commanding a landing craft at D-Day. It's conceivable that memories of the event helped mold Whitehead's career as a diplomat, though he makes no such stretch here; having earned many fortunes as a financier, he served diligently in the Reagan administration as deputy secretary of state under George Schultz, and, Whitehead relates, he made it a special project to open up Eastern Europe in rather the same spirit as Nixon opened up China to American diplomacy. His insistence that the State Department consider the nations of the Soviet bloc to be "differentiated"-that is, still distinct and individual-was met by considerable resistance on the part of National Security Council hardliners; particularly implacable was an old Wall Street rival, Don Regan, though Nancy Reagan was even more formidable after Whitehead publicly disagreed with the president during the Irangate mess. He scored a victory over the hardliners when, he relates, he convinced Reagan to pay up on belated dues to the United Nations-which he adds, George H.W. Bush undid, bowing once again to the right wing. (Reading between the lines, one might conclude that Whitehead has small regardfor any Bush except the unrelated Vannevar.) Whitehead closes by describing the work he has done to rebuild Lower Manhattan, accomplished in part by some very shrewd dealings with residents and businesspeople who are now helping the area flourish anew. Altogether, a pleasing memoir, with many lessons in practical leadership and public duty.

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Basic Books
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6.40(w) x 9.62(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

John C. Whitehead is currently chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and resides in New York City.

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5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This fascinating book will be of interest to a wide array of readers. Previously, I knew a little about John Whitehead¿s illustrious career of leadership in three sectors: as an icon of Wall Street, Deputy Secretary of State, and a philanthropist. Whitehead describes how his professional and personal goals were achieved. With humor and low-key modesty, he shares his experiences throughout his life, and admits to the cases of serendipity that marked aspects of his career. Readers interested in business and finance will enjoy reading how John Whitehead realized his vision of turning Goldman Sachs & Co. into a global investment banking powerhouse by the application of straight-forward methods. With determination, clear-thinking, good planning, and honesty, he rose at Goldman Sachs from a young Harvard MBA to co-chairman in the span of 29 years. Whitehead promoted innovations at Goldman Sachs that were later adopted throughout the investment banking industry: the first initial public offering, preferred stocks and convertible bonds. His nine-point memo with advice to the New Business Department was revolutionary at the time. It included the famous aphorism, 'You can never learn anything when you¿re talking.' The co-chairmanship of Goldman Sachs that he established with John Weinberg was a novel leadership solution, as no Wall Street firm had ever had two chairmen before. John Whitehead displayed determination and thoroughness in his work. For example, no one outside of privately-held Ford Motor Company knew exactly how big the company was. In the mid-1950s, Whitehead took the train up to Boston and personally went through the public records in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts files, to find a copy of Ford¿s balance sheet. This information stimulated Goldman Sachs to initiate a relationship with Ford, which culminated in its managing the IPO of the largest family-owned company in the world. For readers interested in foreign policy, the book illustrates how to achieve results inside the government. Even before his confirmation as Deputy Secretary of State under President Reagan, in the face of Senator Jesse Helms¿ obstructionism, he learned the value of speaking directly to an adversary in a successful effort to work things out. Whitehead wanted to make a difference in the world, which he accomplished 'with just a little insight and persistence.' One of his key successes was to begin the process of weaning Eastern Europe away from the Soviet Union through astute diplomacy, while US foreign policy was still focused on Moscow. He gives a riveting account of his meetings with Lech Walesa and Poland¿s president Jaruzelsky, Rumania¿s president Ceaucescu, and Bulgaria¿s dictator Zhivkov. John Whitehead also made a strong imprint in the world of nonprofits. 'They appealed to the idealistic side of my nature,' he writes. Over the course of his life, he has given away more than $100 million. His involvement in nonprofits began with assistance to freedom fighters resisting the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. He describes his exciting experiences with US-supported mujahedin fighting Russian invaders in Afghanistan, including witnessing an attack on a Soviet fort led by a Harvard Law School graduate from Pakistan! More recently, Whitehead¿s chairmanship of numerous nonprofits ¿ notably the International Rescue Committee, United Nations Association, Youth for Understanding, International House, and The Asia Society ¿ coincided with their spectacular growth. What makes Whitehead¿s book especially appealing are the captivating details about his personal life. He relates how his dashing father would land his single-engine plane during World War I on an athletic field on the Bryn Mawr campus, to court his future wife. Upon graduating from high school, John Whitehead worked at the 1939 World¿s Fair running a concession guessing customers¿ weights. That summer, he earned enough to pay for his first year¿s
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had trouble finishing this book because I could barely get through a couple of pages without getting so inspired that I had to stop so I could take action on my own dreams. As a recent graduate of NYU, I was reminded that my career path will take many unexpected turns and of the possible impact I can have by following my vision and sticking to my values. This autobiography is written with such authenticity that it is completely relatable. The author's struggle to pay his own way through college in 1939 reminded me of my own in 2000. I could relate to the feelings of triumph. And I could certainly relate to the mortifying mistakes (although perhaps I haven't yet experienced anything as bad as driving Henry Ford home in a Chevy!). At the same time, the book is incredibly educational. History, business, political, and leadership lessons are encapsulated in every story. As Whitehead describes his experiences, certain themes begin to emerge, giving the reader tools they can apply to their own life. I found myself using lessons I derived from Whitehead's diplomacy missions in my work with others!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would highly recommend this book to anybody interested in leadership, but especially young business people at the beginning of their careers. This memoir gives an incredible inside and frank perspective on leadership of an individual who has had a more ecclectic and successful career than most people could ever hope for. Furthermore, this book is also fascinating because it provides a historical insight into the business world that a history textbook could never provide. Lastly, I recommend this book because the leadership lessons it provides are universal. They aren't fly-by-night strategies, but basic and simple values that can be applied to almost any leadership position at any time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In my opinion, this is one of the best business memoirs ever written. While John Whitehead may not be as well known as Jack Welch or Mayor Giuliani and other individuals who've written best-selling autobiographies, in many ways his career and character are no less impressive. This book was extremely readable and I finished it all in one day! What I appreciate the most is its honesty and integrity. As I reader, I felt that John Whitehead, now in his late 70s, wasn't writing this book as a tool to step up his own career or feed his ego. I felt that he genuinely wanted to share his experiences and the lessons he's learned from them. Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the focus on character. Unlike other business memoirs, which focus on business strategies, this book focuses on simple values such as hard-work, honesty, integrity, humility, and friendliness. It is inspiring to see these values in somebody who achieved massive success as a business man, states man, and philanthropist.