Managing Rockefeller’s Money

John D. Rockefeller portrait, 1885

John D. Rockefeller in 1885

John D. Rockefeller’s name is etched on countless buildings in New York City, and even though he was born in the Big Apple, he made his fortune in Cleveland, Ohio where he founded Standard Oil. By the time he died, Rockefeller’s assets equaled 1.5% of America’s total economic output—about $340 billion dollars in today’s inflation—more than four times that of Bill Gates.

Cornelius Vanderbilt is known for his railroad empire, but before laying tracks he was in the steamship business. After the Civil War broke out, he offered his largest and fastest ship, the Vanderbilt, to the Union Navy. When President Lincoln asked him to name his price for the ship, he said it was donation. He had no interest in profiting from the war.

Both of these financial giants used private firms to manage their wealth. Since the 1800s, what are now known as “family offices” served the mega-rich with a buffet of wealth management services from tax planning to investment management, including managing everything from their fine art collections to the staff for the family’s vacation home. These days, there are about 100,000 U.S. families worth $5 to $10 million and they represent new opportunities for professional money managers.

Recently, DL MoneyMatters has seen an uptick in referrals from accountants and attorneys who work alongside family offices or lead investment advisors to handle the day-to-day bill-paying or tracking expenditures of family trusts. Our role is to act only in the best interest of the trust, to manage bill-paying carefully, pay bills and taxes on time, and maintain impeccable records. We can only imagine what it must have been like to manage the daily bill paying for the Rockefeller or Vanderbilt families.