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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:783 1935-2015 W592

John C. Whitehead papers


The John C. Whitehead papers include correspondence, subject files, speeches, board records, photographs, news clippings, biographical material, and other documents related to John C. Whitehead’s professional, governmental, and philanthropic activities.


  • 1935-2015


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. HBS Archives collections require a secondary registration form, please contact for more information.

Restricted material has been identified and separated. Note that box and folder lists of restricted material have been redacted

Digital use copies of born-digital content can be accessed only onsite in the de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room on a designated Special Collections computer. Researchers are not permitted to copy or download any digital files. To request access please contact prior to visiting the library.

Audiovisual materials have been digitized. Due to fragility of these materials and the difficulty with play back, researchers must work with digital copies rather than with the original recordings. Digital use copies for items that have been digitized can be accessed only onsite in the de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room. The request access please contact prior to visiting the library.


57 linear feet (240 boxes, 12 volumes, 3 cartons)
534.3 Gigabytes (567 computer files from 2 floppy disks and 27 optical discs, and 34 video files from 34 digitized VHS tapes)

The collection documents the life and career of John C. Whitehead as a leader in business, government, and philanthropy.

The John C. Whitehead Papers contains materials dating from the 1930s until his death in 2015, but the bulk of material was created between 1990 and 2015. Subject files document Whitehead's efforts to support nonprofit organizations as a board member, advisor, and donor, the bulk of which date from 1989 forward. Whitehead's professional career at Goldman Sachs from 1947 to 1984 is largely documented by materials created in the 1990s and 2000s for retrospective purposes. Government service records document the two significant public service appointments that John Whitehead accepted, as Deputy U. S. Secretary of State (1985-1989) and chair of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (2001-2006). Whitehead's involvement with Harvard University and Harvard Business School as alumnus, board member, advisor, and benefactor are documented through records dating primarily from the 1990s and early 2000s. Speeches and related materials are collected in a speech file dating from the 1970s to 2010s. Biographical materials cover Whitehead's personal life with a focus on his education, his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, family, travel, and leisure activities. The photograph series documents Whitehead's life, primarily from the 1970s to the 2010s.

Audiovisual material documents Whitehead's speeches, television appearances, interviews, and appearances at award ceremonies from the 1980s to the 2000s. Material extracted from digital media includes correspondence, biographical information, photographs, and videos of Whitehead's speeches, television appearances, interviews, and appearances at award ceremonies. Videos extracted from digital media also include tributes featuring interviews with Whitehead's colleagues from business, government, and nonprofit organizations.

The materials include correspondence, subject files, memoranda, reports, planning documents, government documents, press releases, speech transcripts and notes, audio recordings, video recordings, digital content from floppy disks and optical discs, photographs, promotional materials, brochures, invitations and event programs, mementos, awards, certificates, degrees, published articles, and news clippings. Board records include meeting minutes, agendas, briefing documents, reports, financial records, correspondence, and memoranda. Consultant-client records include reports, briefing documents, financial records, correspondence, memoranda, business plans, and legal documents.

The collection is arranged into nine series: Series I – Subject Files, 1975-2015; Series II – Correspondence, 1985-2015; Series III – Professional Work Records, 1948-2015; Series IV – Government Service Records, 1985-2014; Series V – Harvard University Records, 1976-2015; Series VI – Speeches, 1969-2015; Series VII – Biographical Materials, 1935-2015; Series VIII – Photographs, 1942-2014; and Series IX - Awards and Honors, 1947-2014.

Biographical Note:

John Cunningham Whitehead was a prominent American business leader, diplomat and philanthropist. Whitehead rose to co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, served as Deputy Secretary of United States Department of State during Ronald Reagan's administration, and shepherded the effort to rebuild Lower Manhattan after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Born on April 2, 1922 in Evanston, Illinois, Whitehead moved with his family to Montclair, New Jersey at the age of two. He began a lifelong association with the Boy Scouts of America as a 12-year-old when he joined his local troop, eventually working his way up to Eagle Scout.

In 1939, Whitehead enrolled at Haverford College, graduating in January 1943 with a degree in economics. During his time at Haverford, he established close relationships with the college's administration, serving as an assistant to the president and teaching economic courses at nearby Bryn Mawr College.

Whitehead enlisted in the United States Navy in June 1943, initially attending the U. S. Navy Supply Corps School training course at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration (HBS). Upon completion of the 90-day training course, Whitehead was appointed as the disbursing officer and assistant supply officer of the U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson, a troop carrier. During the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, Whitehead commanded five LCVP landing craft that delivered two waves of soldiers to the beaches of Normandy. During Whitehead's military service, the U.S.S Thomas Jefferson also participated in the war effort in the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Theater.

After Whitehead completed his overseas duty in the summer of 1945, he was assigned to return to HBS as an instructor in the same Navy Supply Corps School course he attended a few years earlier. He became acquainted with HBS Professor Sterling Livingston, who encouraged him to consider a career in business. Whitehead applied to the MBA program at HBS and moved across campus from the faculty quarters to student housing. He earned his Masters of Business Administration degree with distinction in 1947.

Whitehead interviewed with Goldman Sachs and the firm offered him a position upon graduation, the only person they hired that year. He joined Goldman Sach's bond-buying team in October 1947. Whitehead attracted the attention of Goldman Sachs' senior partner Sidney Weinberg, working as his assistant on many prominent projects, including the initial public offering of the Ford Motor Company in 1956. Whitehead became a partner in the firm in 1956 and focused his attention on creating a New Business Division, where he sought to more proactively solicit clients by creating a department of sales agents assigned to geographic regions within the country. His efforts helped Goldman Sachs grow from a small family-based trading company to an international investment bank. To guide the firm's new sales team, Whitehead authored a set of business principles that remain the basis of Goldman Sachs’ guiding principles and standards.

In 1976, Whitehead and John Weinberg were named co-chairmen and co-senior partners of Goldman Sachs. During the period of their leadership, Whitehead prioritized making Goldman Sachs "the first truly international banking firm" by expanding operations into Europe and Asia. After 37 years with the firm, Whitehead retired from Goldman Sachs in November 1984.

In 1982 Whitehead formed a partnership with longtime friend John McMullen to purchase the New Jersey Devils, a National Hockey League franchise that would play in a newly constructed arena in the Meadowlands. With Whitehead as the "silent" partner in a 75-25 agreement, the pair owned the franchise from 1982 to 2000.

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan and U. S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz recruited John Whitehead to join the State Department as Deputy Secretary of State. Despite his concerns about his own lack of experience in diplomacy and foreign affairs, Whitehead accepted and was sworn into office in October 1985. Whitehead's major focus as Deputy Secretary of State was the development of diplomatic relations with Soviet Bloc nations, many of which had little formal diplomatic interaction with the United States during the Cold War era.

Whitehead left the State Department at the end of Reagan's term in office. In 1989 Whitehead accepted the position of part-time chairman of AEA Investors, and focused his attention on nonprofit philanthropic and civic organizations. For the next 25 years, he served on the boards of more than two dozen nonprofit organizations including Youth for Understanding, International House, the Asia Society, the Brookings Institution, the Greater New York Councils of the Boys Scouts of America, and the Nature Conservancy. Whitehead also served as an advisor to many other nonprofit organizations, and made numerous gifts to nonprofits through the Whitehead Foundation.

Whitehead had a particularly long relationship with the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Whitehead’s interest began in 1956 when his concern for refugees of the Hungarian Revolution led him to become involved in the IRC. He served on the IRC board for more than five decades and was chairman from 1989 to 2000. Through his work with the IRC, Whitehead visited refugee camps in places such as Somalia and Pakistan, and toured the former Yugoslavia in the wake of the wars of the 1990s. Whitehead's State Department experience fostered his belief in the importance of the United Nations in maintaining world peace, and the significance of support for the work of the United Nations from the United States. From 1989 to 1999, he served as chairman of the United Nations Association of the United States of America to advance these goals.

Whitehead brought his nonprofit leadership experience to educational institutions as well. He was particularly engaged with his alma maters, Haverford College and Harvard University, serving on numerous boards throughout the years. Whitehead had a lasting relationship with Harvard Business School. Whitehead became interested in the leadership of nonprofit organizations, and in 1995 joined professors James E. Austin and V. Kasturi Rangan to co-found the Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) at Harvard Business School. Whitehead donated the funds to establish the SEI program at Harvard Business School.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, New York governor George Pataki invited Whitehead to lead the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), which was tasked with rebuilding the 20-square miles of Manhattan below Canal Street. Whitehead's central goal was developing the 16- acre site at Ground Zero into a new complex of buildings and a memorial for the victims of the attack.Whitehead also served on the board of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation which established the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. Whitehead officially stepped down as chair in March 2006 but remained active in the project for several years after his retirement.

In 2005, Whitehead published A Life in Leadership: From D-Day to Ground Zero, a memoir of his life with reflections on his personal brand of "quiet leadership."

John Whitehead was married to Helene "Sandy" Shannon from 1947 to 1970, and to Jaan Chartener from 1972 to 1984. Whitehead and the pioneering television journalist Nancy Dickerson were married from 1989 until her death in 1997. He married Cynthia Matthews on February 7, 2007. John Whitehead died on February 7, 2015 at his home in New York City.

Physical Location



The John C. Whitehead papers were received by Baker Library Special Collections as a gift of the estate of John C. Whitehead in 2015 with additions received in 2016 (M-15-010 and M-17-005).

Related Materials

Harvard Business School Entrepreneurs website with John Whitehead interview videos and transcripts: See archived website

In accordance with the terms of John C. Whitehead's will, the records that document Mr. Whitehead's childhood and college years were donated to Haverford College, Mr. Whitehead's undergraduate alma mater, in Haverford, Pennsylvania.

Processing Information

Processed: November 2018

By: Liam Sullivan

Digital content on physical media has been extracted when possible. Files were surveyed, screened for privacy and confidentiality concerns, and transferred to secure storage. Content open for research is described at the series and folder levels below.

Whitehead, John C., 1922-2015. John C. Whitehead Papers, 1935-2015
Baker Library
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository

Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

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