In Memoriam: John D. Philipsborn, 91

Leading Figure in Chase European Operations for 30+ Years

The CAA mourns the passing of its member John D. Philipsborn, former Head of European Country Risk Analysis for Chase,  in London on Saturday, January 8, 2011, at the age of 91. He leaves his wife, Edwige, two sons and several grandchildren.

Diana Silverman Gore, writing in the CAA newsletter of Fall 1998, provided a vivid portrait of Philipsborn, as well as a detailed reminder of aspects of Chase banking in the 1960s and 1970s.

He was born into a wealthy Chicago family in 1919. His father retired from the family business when he was 38 and took the family to Europe. Philipsborn attended schools in France and Switzerland for 10 years before returning to the United States for further education. His exposure to French and Swiss culture, Gore wrote, stimulated a lifelong passion for European economics and politics.

He entered Harvard in 1938, but left after three years to join the war effort.  (He received his degree after the war without being required to return for the final year of undergraduate studies.)

Philipsborn was sworn into the Foreign Service in 1940 and joined the Air Force in 1941,  serving in the United States and Europe as a flight instructor and fighter pilot.  In 1945, he was sent to France and Germany, finally serving in the Allied Headquarters in Frankfurt where, for several months, he served as Gen. Eisenhower's personal pilot.

After the war, Philipsborn served as a political officer for the Foreign Service in Europe, retiring in 1965.

The following is from Gore's article:

"John, with the help of President of the Bank, David Rockefeller, began his career at Chase, as we all did, in the Credit Training Course.  The Credit Course, in those days, lasted two and one half years.  John's class included such Alumni as Jeff Cunningham, Hervé de Carmoy, Piers Brooke, Daniel Jouve and Dick Boyle.  With John's knowledge of Europe, he was quickly posted overseas, moving first to Switzerland, completing the training program during his first assignment.

"Chase's overseas network was in its infancy in the mid-1960s, with a handful of European branches in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Italy.  Other branches in Heidelberg, Berlin and Stuttgart were offshoots of services provided to the military in World War II.
During the next decade, Chase grew at a rapid rate.  It acquired 50 percent of Banque de Commerce in Belgium, developed a joint venture in Holland and one in Spain.  It opened offices in Greece and Scandinavia, established its subsidiary in Switzerland and opened a representative office in Moscow (1973).  The Eurodollar market was in its infancy with Chase as a major initiator of the new lending and funding product.

"Brussels was the seat of what was called the European Co-ordination Group.  Brussels was considered the logical center for European operations, given the presence of the heart of the Common Market and the headquarters of many U.S. multinationals. Operations, training, cash management were all based in Brussels from 1966 until 1972, when London began its unstoppable ascendancy as the head of European operations.  John came to London in 1973 and remained there until his retirement in 1997.

"From 1981, John was given a position that brought all of his skills and 30 years of accumulated knowledge together. He headed a European Country Risk group, a group that reflected the changing role of banks as major lenders to governments. Rather than a purely banking, credit analysis process, Country Risk Analysis looked at macro-political and economic forces that could affect the bank at a variety of levels."

After retiring from Chase, Philipsborn became a consultant with ARQ International Ltd., an executive search firm in London.

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Alumni wishing to share remembrances and tributes to Philipsborn should send them to

From Dennis Longwell: The Chase Manhattan family lost a unique member in the death of John Philipsborn on Saturday, January 8, at the age of 91.  John was a trusted friend, a wise counselor and a valued mentor to me during my eight years in London and to many others during the 32 years that he served the Bank in Europe.  By his count, he worked with 15 other Heads of Europe in addition to myself.  For half of those 32 years, John was responsible for European Country Risk Assessment, and his encyclopedic knowledge of this vast territory was continuously updated by his travels and meetings with the high and mighty throughout the region, captured in his frequent, pithy reports which were read broadly at all levels throughout the Bank and valued for their insights.
     That was his formal role.  Informally, he was the one so many of us turned to for interpretations of the world around us, both inside and outside the Bank and the European region.  I've never known someone so well-informed and broad-gauged and yet able to encapsulate in a few words a situation, a national regime, or the essence of a prominent political figure. 
     Furthermore, John was such fun!  I quickly learned how well he knew his way around London, tony neighborhoods as well as back alleys, and what a joy it was to occasionally sneak off to a lunch of endless quips and fascinating history.  Later, as we traveled Europe together, I realized that he had mastered the other major capitals as well, and that he had wonderful access to the movers and shakers, and unselfishly made them available to the European and in-country management teams, for the great benefit of managing our business in a well-informed and prudent way. 

     John and Edwige were permanent and gracious hosts and ambassadors on behalf of the Bank, while much of the rest of the team made appearances in more temporary roles.  Area heads and country heads came and went, but John was always able to present a strong thread of continuity, to the great advantage of the institution.  He and Edwige made us all feel welcome - visiting senior executives from New York, newly-arrived recent trainees, and everyone in between.  John was a consummate family man, and we all were his family.
     John left Harvard to come to England and fly fighter planes over the North Sea; 70 years later, after two distinguished careers, one in the Foreign Service and the other in banking, he was still in London.  His abundant contributions to the region and the Bank and to the many lives he touched will be long remembered.

From Tony Walton: John was a most wonderful friend of 41 years. I was terribly saddened to learn of his passing from Mike Curran and Jeff Cunningham yesterday but pleased to know that he had Edwige and Christopher by his side as he left us all peacefully. He will have known they were there.
     Another wonderful, recent, moment was a bit over a year ago when I saw John at his home in London for an hour together with Edwige. I was upset that he was in bed but delighted to introduce him to Jennifer to whom I had been married for a year at that time.
     He was pure John – concentrated solely on Jennifer! Told me I was lucky. I have a wonderful picture of that bedside chat.
     Yes, as Dennis said, John was certainly a mentor to us all. He was also a giant and a great friend. We went everywhere together. Whenever we were in Paris or Brussels he would say, "Let's try this street. I think I remember a brasserie down here." Some of those visits lasted hours! I always wondered what he really did during WWII that endeared him to those proprietors so closely. Jeff, David and Stu will remember those times.
     John was always there for his friends. When I left London in 1979, and my parents in England became older and feebler, John would often get in the car with Edwige and travel to Cambridge to see them on the weekends.
     We all knew John would leave us quite soon. I will miss him enormously.

From Dennis Goggin: John Philipsborn was one of a kind.  Highly intelligent, very sophisticated, amusing and impeccable in his courtesy to everyone.  As he did with others, John became a good friend, a mentor, a gentle critic and always a source of great fun.
     Others have spoken of his knowledge of the boulevards and back streets of Europe's major cities.  But in 1981 John took me on a sentimental journey through Paris, to the restaurants and bistros where he courted Edwige, to a few watering holes that were his favorites and finally to the back room of The Travelers where the daily backgammon game was underway and where he interrupted the players to introduce me.  Later, when I asked him why he introduced me to the men, he remarked, "If you think I have been goofing off all these years, Tommy came from Chicago with the Allied Expeditionary Force and never left.  Sam came with the British Army for the Liberation and stayed."
     In 1979 I went to work for John in the newly established Institutional Banking Group in London.  We had a superb run and were very successful in correspondent banking but also in bringing new opportunities to other parts of the bank.  One year into the job, we were in hot pursuit of an account with one of the clearers and had been invited to lunch in their dining room.  John (JDP as he was known to all) delivered a very hard sell over coffee and I offered a $100 million back up line.  As we strolled back to Woolgate House John turned and said, "Well young man, we are quite a team.  A year ago when they put us together, I think they thought I could smooth off some of your rough edges and you would keep me from giving away the bank.  Now I am becoming aggressive and you could care less about credit approvals!"

     There are so many tales and anecdotes about John that could take years to recount.  What was he doing in all the years in Paris and Brussels? Or on the docks of Marseilles in the 1950's?
     Over the years many (myself included) have appropriated several of John's bon mots:
     'Never go back to old girlfriends or old bars, because you will always be disappointed.'
     'It is not what you earn.  It is what you keep.'
     'There is no such thing as an indiscreet question.  There are only indiscreet answers.'
     'His future is behind him.'
     I have often thought my life has been the better for having been a Chase employee.  But it has also been the better for having met and become friends with John D. Philipsborn.

From Stewart Gager: I cannot add much to the tributes made by Dennis Longwell and Tony Walton, amongst others, but I shared many of the same memories. I was in John`s SDP program in 1965 myself, after having just gotten out of the USMC. I served very closely with John on two occassions while in London during the 70`s and 80`s. He was a great friend to many and a wonderful mentor to those who were lucky enough to know him.  He and Edwige were great hosts and marvelous companions. Dolly and I stayed in touch whenever we returned to London. He was the keynote speaker at our surprise 25th wedding anniversary at Royal Ascot and he made our day!. He will be missed by all who were lucky enough to know him.