Monday, January 9, 2012

Dick Jenrette’s “Balancing” Act

Dick Jenrette (center) with Jack Smith and Peter Kenny at Edgewater. Jack is the site manager of Edgewater, and he is also the Operations Manager for all of Dick's houses. Peter Kenny is the Curator and Administrator of The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was recently at Edgewater to give a talk about the American cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe.
Dick Jenrette’s “Balancing” Act
by Ned Brown

I was thinking quite a bit over the holiday respite about balance in life and perspective on what’s important. David Brooks, the insightful, conservative and often witty columnist for the New York Times wrote a piece called “The Life Report” a few months back in which he asked his readers: “I’d like you to write a brief report on your life so far, an evaluation of what you did well, of what you did not do so well, and what you have learned along the way. You can write a brief essay or divide your life into categories – career, family, faith, community and self-knowledge – and give yourself a grade in each area.”

DLJ co-founders (with Dick Jenrette) Bill Donaldson (above) and Dan Lufkin (below).
At the end of this story, I will tell you what Brooks learned from his readers, but in the meantime, let’s talk a bit about “balance.” And that brings me to Dick Jenrette, a Wall Street icon, co-founder of Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette, and former Chairman & CEO of The Equitable Life Assurance Society (now part of the Axa Group of France).

Although mostly retired from the financial industry, he continues as a Director of the Blackstone Group and likes to add, “Both Steve Schwarzman and Tony James (Chairman and President respectively of Blackstone) are former DLJ guys that I had a hand in hiring, so we go back quite a ways.” Jenrette has managed to balance the left-side of his brain with the creative vision (the right-side) to restore and furnish a collection of great American houses.

Richard Hampton Jenrette was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on April 5, 1929 – a curious year for a future leader of Wall Street, as America was on the cusp of the Roaring Twenties, and the stock market would crash later that year. By all accounts, Jenrette grew up in a solid middle-class, educated family. His father, Joseph, was a successful local insurance salesman. His mother, Emma, was an avid gardener and lived to a healthy 101.

Jenrette attended local Raleigh public schools, where he says, he received an exemplary education.

Raleigh, the state capital of North Carolina and also known as the “City of Oaks,” was also a community that took care of its own – even in the hardest of Depression times. And although six Raleigh banks closed later that year after The Crash, Raleigh was able to sustain its workforce by embarking on a number of major civic projects during the difficult decade of 1930-1940.

Jenrette decided at an early age that he did not want to sell insurance all his life, despite his father’s encouragement. But to his credit, he did not reject it outright; he learned about the business, and eventually became a Chartered Life Underwriter, which would inure to his benefit and credibility when he became the Chairman of the Equitable many decades later. The Equitable Insurance agents on the frontlines saw him not as some corporate raider, but like them, a guy who had paid his dues.
Jenrette’s earliest memories of his fascination with great houses go back to when he was around five years old and the Sunday afternoon drives he would take with his parents. Jenrette even helped pick out the future home his parents would buy. He was captivated by the stateliness of homes with columns, and likes to remark today that even at that early age, he had a good eye for houses. “Perhaps I saw Gone with the Wind too many times when I was ten years old.”
Jenrette’s first job as a teenager in Raleigh was as a newspaper reporter. A childhood friend and neighbor was part of the Park family that owned the Raleigh Times. Jenrette went to work there as a sports writer, where his boss and City Editor was Jesse Helms, who would later go onto become the six-term U.S. Senator from North Carolina and the very powerful and conservative Chairman of the Foreign Relations committee. Jenrette apparently excelled, as he was hired one year letter by the Raleigh Times’ competitor, the News & Observer, as a reporter covering high school sports.

When Jenrette entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1947, he continued with his journalism avocation eventually becoming Editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, among whose earliest editors was Thomas Wolfe, the great American playwright and author of Look Homeward, Angel. Jenrette was followed as Editor a few years later after he graduated by the late, great and beloved CBS correspondent, Charles Kuralt
The Daily Tar Heel: Class of '47 Reunion Edition (May 13, 1972).
After college, Jenrette’s rescue from the insurance business was being drafted into the Army during the Korean War. After basic training, Jenrette was assigned to the Counter-Intelligence Corps in Baltimore, MD. It was his first exposure to a group of Harvard grads, and Jenrette quickly learned he could hold his own. After finishing his military service in Atlanta and Augusta, Jenrette returned home to sell insurance (not for his father), but he knew that scouting for new prospects at the local country club and bothering them for business was not for him.

One of the key pieces of advice Jenrette received years earlier at UNC was from a Dean telling him, “Dick, Harvard Business School has got all the Northeast applicants they need; they’re looking for more Southern boys.” Jenrette laughs and says, “that was affirmative action back in 1955.” Jenrette continued, “I secretly applied to the Harvard Business School without telling my parents. We had the GI Bill at the time and I had recurring commissions from my insurance customers that helped pay for my tuition." After completing Harvard Business School in 1957, Jenrette had job offers in North Carolina, Texas and New York.

After graduating from Harvard Business School in 1957, Jenrette took an entry level position at Brown Brothers Harriman.
Jenrette opted for an entry level position at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York after two martinis with a friend at the Harvard Club. The ambiance of Brown Brothers, with its great hall, high ceilings, fireplaces, oil paintings of the founders and the partners’ roll-top desks appealed to him, “It was like a finishing school for investment advisors,” Jenrette reminisced.

Two years later, Jenrette would leave Brown Brothers, and form Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette with friends Bill Donaldson and Dan Lufkin. Jenrette remarked on his prospects of becoming a Brown Brothers Harriman partner, “I observed that eighteen of the twenty partners were Yale graduates and I was a Southern boy who went to Chapel Hill, albeit a Harvard B-School grad. By joining with Donaldson and Lufkin, two Yale graduates, who were also in Skull & Bones, I got my own Yale team.”

You can read more about Jenrette’s business career in his informative autobiography, The Contrarian Manager, but I want to get back to balance and Jenrette’s right-side of the brain with restoring old houses. Actually, he corrected me during our conversation regarding his houses with, “Every one of the houses I bought, I got at a good price with motivated sellers for different reasons. I sort of just stumbled into each opportunity.” Jenrette then added, “Each one of these houses needed to be appropriately furnished and consequently I eventually acquired one of the largest Duncan Phyfe furniture collections. Twelve of the pieces are now on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I like buying things I enjoy.”
NB and RHJ on Roper House porch overlooking Charleston Harbor.
Jenrette and I conducted our conversation on the piazza/porch of the circa-1838 Roper House on the Battery overlooking Charleston Harbor, which he acquired in 1968, his first historic home acquisition.

“I was staying a few houses away on the Battery with Charlie Duell at the Edmonston-Alston House (Note: Duell is a descendant and owner of this and Middleton Place Plantation).”

Jenrette continues. “We were taking a walk; I remarked how much I liked this house, and Charlie said it just might be available.”
The Roper House overlooks Charleston's historic harbor, including Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began.
Reception Room at Roper House.
Double Parlors at Roper House.
Many locals like to remark that it was the first Charleston house sale in 300 years for $100,000, implying that the newcomer Jenrette was bested in the deal. Jenrette is quick to counter, “First, I couldn’t believe I bought a house like this overlooking the harbor for the price. Second, my deal with Drayton Hastie was $50,000 in cash and a $50,000 no-interest note as long as his mother, Mrs. Norwood Hastie (né: Sarah Calhoun Simons), could continue to live on the principal floor. I was there only part-time, as I was busy building DLJ in New York. And besides, it was a delight to have Mrs. Hastie’s company for fourteen years, and she watched-over the place. Mrs. Hastie was a very elegant Southern lady. She dressed properly for supper each evening, having her bourbon cocktail, and often inviting a few guests. ”

Jenrette’s experiences with his homes are all in his books, Adventures with Old Houses and More Adventures with Old Houses.
Ernie Townsend, Caretaker of Roper House (and Dick Jenrette) for 31 years.
Jenrette naturally gravitates with the prime seasons to his other homes when not in New York at the former George F. Baker townhouses on Park Avenue and 93rd Street. His winter home is in St. Croix (Estate Cane Garden) and late spring through fall at Edgewater (Jenrette’s second acquisition) along the banks of the Hudson River near Rhinebeck, which he bought from Gore Vidal in 1969.

Jenrette’s  foundation, Classic American Houses Preservation Trust now owns Millford Plantation built in 1839-41 smack in the center of South Carolina, which he says he bought on a whim, does not use, and it is open to the public, as well as, Ayr Mount, an 1815 brick country house in Hillsborough, North Carolina, which is also open to the public.

I then asked him the first thing he does arriving at his alternate homes when not in New York.

Charleston: “I meet-up with Ernie Townsend, my caretaker of thirty-one years. There is always so much to do. I also catch-up with friends and family who live nearby.”

St. Croix: “I put on shorts, have a rum cocktail, and sit on the porch overlooking the ocean. The house is high up on a hill, the climate is perfect, and the Caribbean is the most incredible shade of blue.”

Edgewater: "I put on my khakis, pour a vodka, and walk around with my caretaker of 33 years, Jack Smith. Edgewater sits on a peninsula jutting into the Hudson River. Arriving in late May is just an incredibly beautiful time.”

Jenrette adds that he stays in Edgewater through the fall foliage season before returning to Charleston.

I asked Jenrette if there was a house he wanted, but could not get; or one that he regrets selling. He says “no” to the first, and then replies to the second question, “I used to own One Sutton Place North, which I bought from Arthur Houghton (of the Corning Glass family) for $475,000 in 1972. I sold it to Drue Heinz (Mrs. H.J. Heinz II) in 1974 for approximately $1 million.

It was a difficult time for the stock market and DLJ. I was confronted with the possibility of selling a big chunk of my stock in a depressed market, which would have been a huge long-term mistake.

While I hated selling Sutton Place, the alternative was much worse, so I don’t regret the sale, and eventually, I bought the George F. Baker townhouses at Park and 93rd streets, which was a good consolation. From a design perspective, the Baker Houses and One Sutton Place North are very similar.”
George F. Baker townhouses on Park Avenue and 93rd Street.
The view south from Park Avenue and 94th Street around 1882. From last week's New York Times article, " The Grid at 200: Lines That Shaped Manhattan." Credit: Museum of the City of New York.
Park Avenue and 94th Street, circa 1882-1883. Credit: Museum of the City of New York.
Talking with Jenrette, I thought about his life’s experiences in the context of David Brooks’ survey of his readers over seventy years of age. Among the highlights of Brooks’ findings were:

Beware rumination. Self-obsession reinforces the very thoughts and habits that many respondents were trying to escape. Many of the impressive people are self-deceivers where something bad happened to them, they forgot it, forgave it and moved-on. Jenrette has used his Harvard Business School case study training, and applied to all aspects of his life: examine all of the available data, make a decision, and move forward.

Lean toward risk. Many people over 70 regret the risks they didn’t take, than regret the ones they did. In my conversation with Jenrette, there was never an iota of regret, either professionally or personally.

People get better at the art of living. All throughout my conversation with Jenrette, he had an excitement in his voice and a twinkle in his eye. He opined, “Most decisions you make involve some element of your time. My former partner, Dan Lufkin, used to say that in making decisions involving one’s time, we should not forget that the whole purpose is to make sure we get a return on life.”
Edgewater, circa 1825, sits along the banks of the Hudson River near Rhinebeck. The massive Doric columns represent one of the earliest examples of the use of columns on residential buildings.
Drawing Room at Edgewater.
Octagon Library at Edgewater.
Bedroom at Edgewater.
Landscape and gardens and Edgewater.
Front porch at Edgewater.
The pool at Edgewater.
At a spry 82 years of age, Dick Jenrette has both perspective and balance in a well-designed life, with a dash of luck along the way. When I ask Jenrette what motto describes his life; he smiles and says, “Sic transit gloria mundi,” or loosely translated as “Fame is fleeting.”

In Jenrette’s carefully planned life, I think a more accurate descriptive is “Faber est quisque fortunae suae” or “Every man is architect of his own fortune.” Jenrette is enjoying a truly rich life.
The grand façade of Millford Plantation in South Carolina, built in 1839-41.
Double Parlors at Millford Plantation.
Ayr Mount, an 1815 brick country house in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
East Parlor at Ayr Mount.
Estate Cane Garden, Dick's winter home in St. Croix.
Estate Cane Garden South Façade (top) with two views of the Great Hall.
If you would like to make a contribution to Dick Jenrette’s foundation to preserve, protect (and open to the public) examples of classic American architecture, please go to: All donations are tax-deductible.

Photos of Dick Jenrette in Charleston by
Christina Baxter.
House photographs by John M. Hall & Paul Rocheleau.

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