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Peter George Peterson

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Peter George Peterson

Peter George Peterson
20th United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
February 29, 1972 – February 1, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Maurice Stans
Succeeded by Frederick B. Dent
Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations
In office
Preceded by David Rockefeller
Succeeded by Carla A. Hills / Robert E. Rubin
Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
In office
Personal details
Born (1926-06-05) June 5, 1926
Kearney, Nebraska
Spouse(s) Joan Ganz Cooney

Peter George "Pete" Peterson (born June 5, 1926) is an American businessman, investment banker, fiscal conservative, philanthropist, and author, who served as United States Secretary of Commerce from February 29, 1972 to February 1, 1973. He is also known as founder and principal funder of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which he established in 2008 with a $1 billion endowment. The group focuses on raising public awareness about U.S. fiscal-sustainability issues related to federal deficits, entitlement programs, and tax policies.[1] In recognition of his support, the influential[2] Peterson Institute for International Economics was named in his honor in 2006.

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, which went public in 2007. 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.

Peterson has been named the most influential billionaire in U.S. politics.[3]

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.[4]


  • Life and career 1
    • Education 1.1
    • Career 1.2
    • Honors 1.3
    • Politics 1.4
  • Writings 2
    • Books 2.1
  • References 3
  • External links 4

Life and career

Peterson was born in Joan Ganz Cooney, a creator of Sesame Street, and a stepmother to Peterson's five children.[6] In his autobiography he recalls his business and private life in which he blames himself for the failure of two of his three marriages but is now proud of having grown close to his children (one of whom is Holly Peterson, an author [7] [8]) and grandchildren.[9]


Peterson, after transferring out of MIT, received an undergraduate degree from Northwestern University, graduating in 1947, summa cum laude. He joined Market Facts, a Chicago-based market research firm, in 1948.[10] 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. He has been a director of a number of other corporations.

In 1969, he was invited by philanthropist foundations be required annually to disburse a minimum proportion of their funds.

In 1971, he was named Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs by U.S. President Richard Nixon. 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.

He was Chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers (1973–1977) and Lehman Brothers, Kuhn, Loeb Inc. (1977–1984).[11]

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.[12] It was the fortune he made at Blackstone, including the $1.9 billion he received when it went public in 2007, that funded many of his charitable and political causes.[13][14]

Peterson swearing in the first woman officer of the NOAA Corps.

In 1992, he was one of the co-founders of the Republican, but the Republicans have become a far more theological, faith-directed party, not troubling with evidence."[15]

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 serves as Co-Chair of the Conference Board Commission on Public Trust and Private Enterprises (Co-Chaired by John Snow).

He succeeded David Rockefeller as Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations in 1985 and served until his retirement in 2007. He currently serves 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 is 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 I.O.U.S.A.,and did outreach to the 2008 presidential candidates.[16]

Peterson funds The Fiscal Times, a news website that reports on current economic issues, including the federal budget, the growing 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.


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.


From 2007 through 2011, Peterson is reported to have contributed $458 million to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, to promote the cause of fiscal responsibility, which its opponents regard as unjustified fiscal austerity. [17]


  • "Why I’m Giving Away $1 Billion", Newsweek, May 30, 2009
  • "You Can't Take It with You", Newsweek, April 7, 2008
  • "Old habits must change", The Banker, 3 January 2005
  • Articles published in "Foreign Affairs" 1994–2004.


  • Facing Up: How to Rescue the Economy from Crushing Debt and Restore the American Dream. Simon & Schuster; First Edition (November 8, 1993). ISBN 978-0-671-79642-6
  • Will America Grow up Before it Grows Old: How the Coming Social Security Crisis Threatens You, Your Family and Your Country. Random House; 1 edition (October 8, 1996). ISBN 978-0-679-45256-0
  • Gray Dawn: How the Coming Age Wave Will Transform America—and the World. Three Rivers Press (September 26, 2000). ISBN 978-0-8129-9069-0
  • On Borrowed Time: How the Growth in Entitlement Spending Threatens America's Future with Neil Howe. Transaction Publishers (May 1, 2004). ISBN 978-0-7658-0575-1
  • Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It. Picador (June 16, 2005). ISBN 978-0-312-42462-6
  • The Education of an American Dreamer: How a Son of Greek Immigrants Learned His Way from a Nebraska Diner to Washington, Wall Street, and Beyond. Twelve (June 8, 2009). ISBN 978-0-446-55603-3


  1. ^
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Hiltzik, Michael (October 2, 2012). "Unmasking the most influential billionaires in U.S. politics". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 30, 2012. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Vexler, Robert I (1975). "The Vice-Presidents and Cabinet members: Biographies arranged chronologically by Administration".  
  6. ^ Biography: Joan Ganz Cooney
  7. ^  
  8. ^ "WEDDINGS; Holly Peterson, Richard A. Kimball Jr.". The New York Times. 1994-09-11.  
  9. ^ Hurt, Hary (June 20, 2009). "Go East, Young Man, and Make Your Fortune". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Peter G. Peterson".  
  11. ^ Ken Auletta, Greed and Glory on Wall Street: The Fall of the House of Lehman, search pages, (Random House, December 12, 1985), ISBN 1-58567-088-X
  12. ^ David Carey & John E. Morris, King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone, (Crown 2010), pp. 45–56
  13. ^ Blackstone IPO Prospectus,
  14. ^ King of Capital, p. 5
  15. ^ Robert Kuttner (December 26, 2004). "What Killed Off The GOP Deficit Hawks?". Bloomberg. 
  16. ^ Bryan Bender, Movement warns of US bankruptcy, Seeks support for overhaul of federal budget, Boston Globe, July 10, 2008.
  17. ^ Grim, Ryan; Blumenthal, Paul (May 15, 2012). "What Half A Billion Dollars Buys You In Washington". Huffington Post. 

External links

  • Biography from Blackstone Group
  • The Concord Coalition biography
  • Brandt 21 Forum biography
  • Hess, John L. (March–April 1997). "A Crusader in Clover". Extra! (  
  • "Transcript: Conversation with a Conservative: Peter G. Peterson".  
  • "Transcript: Bill Moyers Interviews Peter Peterson".  
  • "The Tri-Deficits: Why They Matter and What to Do About Them".  
  • Audio-Interview with Peter Peterson by German Journalist Wolfgang Blau, a.k.a. Harrer, Deutsche Welle, November 2004 (English interview with short German intro)
  • Pete Peterson on Charlie Rose (PBS), 1994–2009.
  • A Conversation with Peter Peterson at
  • I.O.U.S.A.: The Movie a Peter G. Peterson Foundation-supported documentary
  • A film clip "The Open Mind – After the Fall (1987)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive
  • A film clip "The Open Mind – "The Wealth of Nations" (2008)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive
  • Krugman's views on Peterson's efforts with the national debt
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
Political offices
Preceded by
Maurice Stans
U.S. Secretary of Commerce
Served under: Richard Nixon

February 29, 1972 – February 1, 1973
Succeeded by
Frederick B. Dent
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