Guy de Rothschild; French Banking Executive

Baron Guy de Rothschild with his wife, Marie-Helene, in June 1957, after his filly, Cerisoles, won the Prix de Diane.
Baron Guy de Rothschild with his wife, Marie-Helene, in June 1957, after his filly, Cerisoles, won the Prix de Diane. (Associated Press)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007

Guy de Rothschild, 98, the dynamic patriarch of one of the world's dominant banking families and whose business savvy helped revive and expand the multibillion-dollar enterprise after World War II, died June 12 in Paris. No cause of death was disclosed.

For generations, the Rothschilds had been economic advisers to European royalty, heads of state and even popes. Guy de Rothschild's ancestors settled in Paris and started a French banking branch in 1817 that financed wars and railroads as well as occasional explorations in mining and archeology.

They became one of the richest and most powerful families in the world. Yet for all their wealth, they largely operated away from public scrutiny. This changed with Baron Guy de Rothschild, whose title had been passed down since the emperor of Austria recognized the contributions of a Rothschild ancestor during the Napoleonic wars.

He took control of the family's Paris branch -- which along with its London office was one of its most powerful offices -- and set about modernizing operations after their near ruin during the Nazi occupation of France.

Besides holding the presidency of de Rothschild Freres bank -- which became Banque Rothschild after a major reorganization in the late 1960s -- he also assumed the presidency of Compagnie du Nord, the family's investment and holding company that had assets in the metal, mining and chemical industries.

With two younger cousins, he played a vital part in implementing the latest data-processing and management-control techniques. A sleek new headquarters building was erected in Paris as well.

Although he guided investments into blue-chip firms, including Michelin, De Beers and IBM, it was said that Baron de Rothschild's greatest role was overseeing an aggressive expansion of investments overseas, including oil digs in the Sahara and iron mining in Mauritania. He also financed lead mines in Peru and ski resorts in the Swiss Alps.

Several of the mining operations failed miserably, but the bank's continued diversification -- notably into the U.S. steelmaker Copperweld Corp. -- helped it survive.

In 1967, he told Time magazine that he wanted to underscore a "policy of opening up, democratization and de-mythification," and this resulted in a major restructuring of the business as a commercial enterprise.

Meanwhile, he solidified the family's political connections. He advised French President Charles de Gaulle, whom he had known since World War II, and also formed a close relationship with Georges Pompidou, whom Baron de Rothschild had helped promote to an important managerial position in the banking empire. Pompidou became de Gaulle's prime minister before serving as French president.

Yet in the early 1980s, under the new socialist government of Fran├žois Mitterrand, the family suffered a massive reversal of fortune with the nationalization of the country's banks.

Baron de Rothschild, leader of the French Jewish community, wrote a scathing letter to the newspaper Le Monde -- printed on its front page -- declaring that France had now twice tried to vanquish his family.

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