Peter George Peterson

For other people named Peter Peterson, see Peter Peterson (disambiguation).
Peter George Peterson

Peterson, 1972
Chairperson of the Council on Foreign Relations
In office
September 1, 1985  June 30, 2007
Preceded by David Rockefeller
Succeeded by Carla Hills
Robert Rubin
20th United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
February 29, 1972  February 1, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Maurice Stans
Succeeded by Frederick Dent
Personal details
Born (1926-06-05) June 5, 1926
Kearney, Nebraska, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Kris Krengel (1948–1950)
Sally Hornbogen (1953–1979)
Joan Ganz Cooney (1980–present)
Children 5, including Holly
Alma mater Northwestern University (BA)
University of Chicago (MBA)

Peter George "Pete" Peterson (Peter Petropoulos) (born June 5, 1926) is an American businessman, investment banker, 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] Most of his giving has been to his own foundation, The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which focuses on raising public awareness about long-term fiscal sustainability issues.

Life and career

Peterson was born in Greece and came to America at 17 years of age, the son of Venet and George Peterson, Greek immigrants.[5] His father opened and ran a diner in 1923 after changing his name from Georgios Petropoulos. After college, Peterson was first married from 1948 to 1950 to Kris Krengel, a journalism student at Northwestern University.[6] In 1953, he married psychologist Sally Hornbogen Peterson with whom he had four sons: John Scott, James, David and Michael; and one daughter, the writer Holly Peterson.[7][8] The Petersons divorced in 1979.[7] The following year, Peterson married Joan Ganz Cooney, a creator of Sesame Street.[9] 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.[10]


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.[11] 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 John D. Rockefeller III, CFR Chairman John J. McCloy, and former Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon to chair a Commission on Foundations and Private Philanthropy, which became known as the Peterson Commission. Among its recommendations adopted by the government were that 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).[12]

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.[13] 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.[14][15]

Peterson swearing in the first woman officer of the NOAA Corps (1972).

In 1992, he was one of the co-founders of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan citizens' group that advocates reduction of the federal budget deficit. Following record deficits under President George W. Bush, Peterson commented in 2004, "I remain a Republican, but the Republicans have become a far more theological, faith-directed party, not troubling with evidence."[16]

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 Peter G. Peterson Foundation (PGPF), an organization devoted to spreading public awareness on fiscal sustainability issues related to the national debt, federal deficits, Social Security policy, and tax policies. PGPF distributed the 2008 documentary film I.O.U.S.A.,and did outreach to the 2008 presidential candidates.[17]

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.[18]




  2. James G. McGann (Director) (January 20, 2012). "The Global Go To Think Tank Report, 2011" (PDF). Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  3. Hiltzik, Michael (October 2, 2012). "Unmasking the most influential billionaires in U.S. politics". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 30, 2012.
  5. Vexler, Robert I (1975). "The Vice-Presidents and Cabinet members: Biographies arranged chronologically by Administration". ISBN 9780379120905.
  6. Peterson, Peter G. (June 8, 2009). The Education of an American Dreamer. Twelve. pp. 52–68. ISBN 0446556033.
  7. 1 2 Sicilia, David A. (August 30, 2003). Robert Sobel, ed. The United States Executive Branch: A Biographical Directory of Heads of State and Cabinet Officials. M–Z. Greenwood Press. p. 407. ISBN 978-0313325946.
  8. "WEDDINGS; Holly Peterson, Richard A. Kimball Jr.". The New York Times. 1994-09-11. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  9. Biography: Joan Ganz Cooney
  10. Hurt, Hary (June 20, 2009). "Go East, Young Man, and Make Your Fortune". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2012.
  11. "Peter G. Peterson". Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. Blackstone IPO Prospectus,
  15. King of Capital, p. 5
  16. Robert Kuttner (December 26, 2004). "What Killed Off The GOP Deficit Hawks?". Bloomberg.
  17. Bryan Bender, Movement warns of US bankruptcy, Seeks support for overhaul of federal budget, Boston Globe, July 10, 2008.
  18. Grim, Ryan; Blumenthal, Paul (May 15, 2012). "What Half A Billion Dollars Buys You In Washington". Huffington Post.
Political offices
Preceded by
Maurice Stans
United States Secretary of Commerce
Succeeded by
Frederick Dent
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