In Memoriam: Wolfgang Schoellkopf, 91

EVP and Treasurer at Chase Manhattan, Mentor to Many

Wolfgang Schoellkopf, Executive Vice President and Head of Treasury for Chase Manhattan Bank in the 1980s, died August 5, 2023, of congestive heart failure in Melville, NY, on Long Island.
He was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1932. According to his daughter, Wendy Doster, Schoellkopf left Germany by ship as a young teenager right after the war ended, traveling alone to the United States with few belongings and little money "to pursue The American Dream and escape bad memories of the war."
"He never knew during the war if he would survive another day, as he saw neighbors' homes being bombed daily," she said.
Schoellkopf earned an undergraduate degree in economics at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He did post-graduate work in economics at the University of Munich and at Cornell University, where he was also an instructor from 1960 to 1961. He then lectured in economics at Princeton University, from 1961 to 1963, before joining Chase Manhattan – where he would become a Senior Vice President in 11 years.  
Timothy Plesko, who worked with him, recalls, "Wolf was promoted to Senior Vice President in charge of Global Funding and Portfolio in 1974 at a time of heightened regulatory oversight that called for greater policy structure and strategy coordination. He soon oversaw Global Foreign Exchange as well. Five years later he became EVP and Treasurer for Chase Manhattan, when the Paul Volcker tenure as Fed Chairman was leading to unprecedented levels of interest rates (the Fed Funds rate reached 20% in 1980). Together with U.S. deposit deregulation that started in 1980, this new level of market fluctuation and global integration created industry challenges, which Wolf helped Chase shepherd until 1988."
Volcker, according to Schoellkopf's daughter, was a close lifelong personal friend of his father's, beginning when they met at Chase. "Paul often called my father for lunch (along with his wife sometimes), typically seeking all kinds of advice – and even while Chairman of the Fed! They just had a mutual respect for each other." Doster said he helped Volcker decide to step down from the Fed and return to the private sector to provide better for his family, affording him time and resources to care for his ailing wife. Years later, in his own retirement, Schoellkopf would be his wife's sole caregiver when she began to have memory issues.
Schoellkopf's experiences at Cornell and Princeton would benefit his hires at Chase. Plesko noted, "Those who worked for him in Treasury remember as well the teacher he was at heart. My colleague Eileen Moy said, 'He was a great mentor, asking questions that he already knew the answers to, but did so to train you in critical and analytical thinking. I appreciated his mentoring after I learned to realized what a kind and considerate person he was.' What had to be learned was so relatively new that it wasn’t in books or taught in courses yet at that time. He could also be formidable and exacting at times, a standard that was sometimes a challenge to meet. He influenced many professionals, some of whom eventually retired from Chase and others who moved onto successful careers elsewhere in the industry."
Schoellkopf left Chase Manhattan in 1988, after 25 years with the bank. 
Subsequently, he was Executive Vice President at Shearson Lehman Hutton Inc.(1988-1990); CFO at First Fidelity Inc. (1990-1996); Partner, Ramius Capital Group (1997-1998); and CEO, U.S. operations, Bank Austria Group (2000-2001). He had been a general partner of PMW Capital Management LLC, since 1996, and a managing partner for Lykos Capital Management, LLC, since 2003. He also served on the board of directors of SLM Corporation.
Schoellkopf had many interests outside economics and wrote many books. According to his daughter, "His passion was the study of anything relating to Ancient Greece, and he collected ancient Greek art and coins. He was an expert on Ancient Greece and penned a travel book called Julia in Hellas. He made at least 37 trips to Greece and visited every ruin on and off the beaten path over and over again. He treated his children and grandchildren to special trips there individually, teaching us history. He also loved the opera, classical music, creating his own paintings, writing and collecting art. He was a fixture at the art galleries in New York." 
He also found time to be a trustee of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund and Loyola Marymount University, as well as a board member of Sallie Mae.
Marquis Who's Who presented Schoellkopf with the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. 
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife Margaret "Peggy" Schoellkopf – whom he met when she was a librarian at Chase – his son Michael and four grandchildren. His son Peter died unexpectedly in March 2023.
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From Philip Sorace: My contacts with Wolf Schoellkopf for most of my career at the Chase were remote and distant until one day they weren’t. I was appointed head of the Government Banking Division of Chase Treasury Department  by Palmer Turnhiem. We had responsibility for internally approving and rating all private- and publicly issued State and Municipal notes and bonds acquired by the Bank and all operating businesses with the federal government and various states and municipalities, as well as their agencies and quasi-corporate entities.
     Wolf considered these activities to be outside the realm of his interests and at best tangential to the Treasury Department. Over time, though, he grew to appreciate the professional contacts we had with the government and to trust the intelligence we gathered from the executives in high positions and not appointed politicians.
     Each morning before the trading day began he would conduct a meeting in his office with all divisions and trading teams. It was at these meetings that Wolf became my secret mentor.
     In order to properly position the Bank’s various trading and investment accounts, he required information. I can liken his responsibility to preparing strategic and tactical business plans every day in response to prevailing market and macroeconomic circumstance. To do this, he grilled his managers with relentless questioning to evidence the factual basis of their opinions and recommendations. Ultimately, it was Wolf’s responsibility to protect and advance the Bank’s financial position, and it was he who took responsibility for the end results.  
     At first I misread his approach as a kind of bullying, but, in time, I came to realize that a good leader gathers as much factual information from his/her direct reports as possible and tests their convictions to weed out uncertainty, guess work and lazy assumptions parroting the opinions in the market place. I learned from Wolf that a leader always takes responsibility for the outcomes of his command and must, as a necessity, continually challenge and test the information and its sources he gets and to always be wary and skeptical of his own decision making – but, once a decision is made, to stay the course.
     After we had both left the Chase, we met for lunch every couple of months where my mentorship continued. I learned to respect the man as well as the leader at these lunches. And while he may have had cause to, he never directed an ill word toward anyone – except once – and I leave it there. 
From Paul Brandow: I knew him well, working directly for him from about 1979/80 until he left the bank in 1988. He was a very smart (brilliant?) Treasurer, with a mastery of money, currency and capital markets. 
     He oversaw the development of treasury operations overseas during the expansion of our branch network on every continent. His combination of global product oversight and local treasury management worked extremely well as I saw it – matrix management that actually worked. 
     When the bank was allowed to expand into bonds and equities in the UK as a result of the “Big Bang”, he inherited responsibility for all the trading activities of the two firms we purchased, Laurie Millbank and Simon & Coates. I’m not totally sure what he thought of the acquisitions initially, but he was quick to appreciate that the challenges were greater than anyone expected. And he was right, as in due course (well after he left Chase), all of the securities trading activities were abandoned. 
     On a personal level, Wolf was a great mentor and my greatest supporter (only to be rivaled by Don Layton many years later). He could be challenging, to be sure, but even that was a valuable learning experience. I started with him as his chief of staff of sorts and he later sent me to Hong Kong and Brazil as head of Treasury and Securities and then London as head of Trading and Securities, all fantastic professional experiences. I owe him a great deal.
From Ken Jablon: I only knew Wolf on a professional basis but the following story is an indication of the type of person he was.
     In 1979, Wolf was the head of the Treasury Department for Chase and I was in charge of Product Management and Marketing for the Community Banking checking and savings accounts.
     The individuals who worked in Community Banking (consumer part of the bank) were considered second-class (at best) by the rest of the bank because we hadn't gone through Global Credit Training, didn't deal with large corporations, etc.
     During this period, inflation and interest rates were high double digits.
     My area initiated a program to bring in consumer deposits which had two components:
1. a "secret" way to give cash gifts to depositors that added up to a higher rate than the other banks (consumer deposit rates were fixed by by the Federal Reserve); and
2. a major advertising campaign with the theme of the "The Chase Against Inflation."
     Paul Volcker, who was then the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York notified Chase that what we were doing with cash gifts was totally in conflict with Federal Reserve regulations. It wasn't, so they changed the regulations, but we had the momentum and brought in a large volume of deposits from our competitor banks, particularly savings banks.
     We were very happy with the outcome but not much was said about it. However, out of the blue, I received a call from Wolf. He said: "Ken, I want to personally thank you for bringing in those deposits that were at a much lower rate than we could have acquired them on the open market, and I also want you to realize how much I believe that Community Banking is an important part of this bank."
From Andrew Fately: Wolf’s passing is a sad day for us all. During my time at the bank in the FX department, he was a constant presence, but I did not really get to know him until he asked me to replace the FX options team that had recently departed to Bear Stearns. He was extremely interested in both the trajectory of the business and the day-to-day aspect as well, with a number of surprise one-on-one meetings for updates. He was a huge supporter of continuing to expand the business and instrumental in its growth.  And things must have worked out well, as when he left and went to Shearson Lehman, he called me and hired me away to build the business there.

     I will always have very fond memories of Wolf.