John Birkelund

Obituary of John P Birkelund

John P. Birkelund, former chairman and CEO of Dillon, Read & Co. Inc., dedicated trustee of educational and cultural institutions, and loving husband, father, and grandfather died on May 10th at the age of 88 in New Canaan, CT.  He is survived by his wife, Constance, his four daughters, Gwynne Anne, Elizabeth, Constance Olivia and Diana Ruth, and nine grandchildren.


Born in Chicago, he graduated from Princeton University, Phi Beta Kappa, pursued graduate studies at Northwestern University, and served as a US Naval Intelligence Officer in Berlin from 1953-1956.


As President of New Court Securities, a pioneer in institutional venture capital and corporate buyout funds, Birkelund helped facilitate the successful formation of such companies as Federal Express Corp., Amgen Inc., and Texas Instruments Inc. New Court Securities was also the primary investment vehicle for the Rothschild family in the United States.


 In 1981, Birkelund joined Dillon, Read & Co. Inc. as president and later became chairman and chief executive officer. He led the company through sixteen years of solid profitability and thereafter became chairman of UBS Investment Bank. Birkelund co-founded, chaired and later became senior advisor to Saratoga Partners, an independent merchant banking firm. He is a former director of the New York Stock Exchange.


In 1990, Birkelund was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to organize and chair the Polish American Enterprise Fund, a $240 million U.S. funded investment fund established to spur the economic reconstruction of Poland after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Fund was the most successful Enterprise Fund created by the US in Eastern Europe.  


As a trustee of many institutions, Birkelund focused on education and the interplay of history, diplomacy, policy and culture. He served as a trustee of Brown University and helped establish Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, and received an Honorary Doctorate. He also served as a life trustee at the New York Public Library, trustee emeritus of the Frick Foundation and the American Academy in Berlin, and was chairman emeritus of the Polish American Freedom Foundation and the National Humanities Center. His dedication to the academic community was recognized when he was elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Arts and Science.


A keen historian, he wrote a biography of Gustav Stresemann, Chancellor and Foreign Minister during the Weimar Republic. The book was published by Europa Verlag and received critical acclaim.


Among many local causes, Birkelund supported Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem and the Student Sponsor Partnership.


Birkelund mentored many with his strongly held values and his belief in “character is destiny.”  His family, friends, and colleagues will miss his Viking spirit, his intellectual vigor, his passion for excellence and his caring leadership.


A private memorial service will be held in Connecticut.


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