There is going to be a lot of praise lavished on Richard Holbrooke in the coming hours and days for his service as an American diplomat, much of it deserved. But Holbrooke, who died today, was also a businessman, a fact that shouldn't be forgotten. Anyone admiring Holbrooke is, whether they intend to or not, making the point that you don't have to be a professor or community organizer to make a positive contribution to this country — you can work in financial services, too. You can even be "rich" — Mr. Holbrooke had houses in Bridgehampton and Telluride and owned a 1/16th interest in a Cessna 680 jet. This 2001 press release from Perseus LLC announcing that Holbrooke was joining as vice chairman conveyed the idea:
"I have been an investment banker for fifteen of the last twenty years - twelve years at Lehman and three at First Boston," said Mr. Holbrooke. "I especially enjoy identifying investment opportunities and helping those companies grow through applications of capital and expertise."
From February 2001 to July 2008 Holbrooke was a director of AIG.
Holbrooke's diplomatic dealings will get a lot more attention in the obituaries than will his business dealings, and critics may say that an ex-government-official using connections from government service to make money is not exactly free market capitalism at its purest or best. Even so, the quote above from Holbrooke suggests he saw nothing to be ashamed of, and even something of value, in "identifying investment opportunities and helping those companies grow through applications of capital and expertise."