José Luis Alvarez. Professor. Instituto de Empresa
24 October 2003
David Rockefeller's autobiography reflects the philanthropic phase of capitalism, exercised individually and voluntarily and based on puritan values, and the appearance of corporate social responsibility, exercised in institutional conformity with abstract codes.
Rockefeller is a friend of yours. Your friend is none other than David Rockefeller, whose Memoirs were published last summer. And a Rockefeller is not just any old friend. Although the most famous of the five second-generation Rockefeller brothers was Nelson - who attempted to emulate the Kennedy model of simultaneously exercising the roles of financial, political and social aristocrat, finally becoming Vice-President of the United States - David was probably the most influential of them all. He developed his professional career in the Chase Manhattan Bank, in which the Rockefellers held a 5% stake, where he went on to become its chief executive officer; in addition, he was a renowned art collector and active citizen (for example, he was one of the promoters of the Twin Towers urban complex).
The first time I read David Rockefeller's autobiography, a year ago now, I was interested in his description of organizational evolution at the Chase, from local bank to multinational. It told of the philanthropic phase of capitalism, exercised individually and voluntarily and based on puritan values, and the appearance of what, nowadays, we call corporate social responsibility, exercised in institutional conformity with abstract codes. It also described his dispassionate description of the problems among the second-generation Rockefeller brothers, so different each of them. Finally, it related the problems they all had with their own children, brought up in the difficult period of the sixties. For these reasons alone, the book is worth reading - a pleasant chronicle, while offering a realistic and highly perceptive view of the "inner workings" of the elite in the dominant country of the latter half of the 20th century.
Some days ago, following an invitation to comment, at a seminar, on an old documentary on David Rockefeller's style of work as Director General at Chase, I reread his memoirs and it is plain to me that this is also a splendid textbook on how to generate and maintain productive social relationships. Without them, Rockefeller would not have been able to achieve his goals in the wide-ranging variety of activities he so loved: business, social, family, etc. His memoirs are a perfect example of the principal dimensions for analyzing a network of contacts. These dimensions are:
:: First, the size of your network. The bigger, the better. The network of an executive of around forty years of age should consist of at least three thousand people, with whom you have had some experience in common, of any kind, which leaves the door open to try to contact them in times of need. Rockefeller's autobiography alone mentions hundreds by name (and we know many more people than those whose name we remember).
:: Second, the relevance of the so-called "weak ties", the acquaintances. While the "strong ties", such as family and close friends, provide emotional support or assistance in cases of dire need, it is the weak relations that provide information, opportunities and access. It is fascinating to read how Rockefeller is constantly establishing productive links with second and third degree relations: acquaintances of friends or acquaintances, etc.
:: Third, the variety of social circles to which one has access. The most important criterion of quality in a social network is its heterogeneity. Those that are just like you do not add anything new. The diversity of Rockefeller's contacts in international, political, business and cultural circles, etc. is the key to his "social" richness.
:: Finally, your position within that network. "Brokers" like Rockefeller are continuously putting groups or individuals in contact with each other, who otherwise would remain isolated - they are constantly doing people favors.
[*D Rockefeller was well aware of the fact that economic capital loses value if there is no social capital that makes it move around *]
It is obvious that his enormous wealth greatly facilitated the creation and activation of social capital for David Rockefeller. Who does not want to have access to him? However, the interesting thing about the book is the way it reveals how, despite that initial advantage he clearly enjoyed, he spent an enormous amount of time spinning his web of contacts, because he was well aware of the fact that economic capital loses value if there is no social capital that makes it move around.
For you, the readers, who undoubtedly have a trivial amount of economic capital compared to that of Rockefeller, what should really concern you is your human capital, your professional skills, because these also lack effectiveness without social capital to ensure they are known and valued. And one further lesson from Rockefeller: the courtesy and affability with which he developed his network. It is legitimate for social network to be instrumental, but when there is no deception as regards the expectations of the relation and every attempt is made to enjoy all human contact, from the most affective to the most operational, networks of relations satisfy a profound human need.
Rockefeller would have considered you part of his relations, in the event of need and interest. After all, a social network makes the most of (almost) everything. The least you can do is respond in like manner.