tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg April 30, 2022 9:00am-9:30am EDT
david: this is my kitchen table and also my filing system. over much of the past 3 decades i have been an investor. the highest calling of mankind, i have often thought of as private equity. then i started interviewing. i have learned from doing my interviews how leaders make it to the top. >> i asked him how much he wanted. he said $250. i did no due diligence. david: i have something to sell
you. and how they stay there. one of the most influential figures in the world of philanthropy is darren walker. he is an influential figure in the world of culture and arts. i sat down with him recently to talk about how he rose from modest circumstances to become a leading figure in the world of philanthropy, culture and art. as the head of the ford foundation you are one of the most important people in the world of philanthropy. darren: i am part of a constellation of people lucky enough to lead foundations like ford or rockefeller, any of the great legacies, but covid has absolutely impacted how we do our work, both internationally and domestically. let's start with internationally. the reality of this moment is we
are seeing tremendous inequality . the ways in which vaccines are being distributed, the ways in which they are being manufactured, and the issues around cost and intellectual property, which are profound and having a dramatic impact for people in africa and much of the global south. the covid in -- in the united states, covid has meant that communities that are the most vulnerable have been doubly impacted because of covid. what that has meant for philanthropy is that we have had to double down in some ways, and recognize in the united states the covid moment has coincided with the george floyd racial reckoning moment. david: let's talk about the ford
foundation, something you have done that is innovative to deal with covid. you convinced the ford foundations'trustees = -- ford foundation's trustees to borrow money. darren: we had to do that. in the beginning of march -- april of 2020, the markets were -- in the beginning of march and april of 2020, the markets were very choppy. they were in huge distress. arts organizations had closed their doors. there was no revenue. nonprofit fundraisers had been canceled. donors were beginning to get concerned about pledges. we needed to increase our spending while our
endowment was going down in value. i had seen that in the last market cycle where the need went up, and our endowment went down. in order to address the need side while maintaining the physical responsibility of maintaining -- managing the endowment, ended the luck of having jerome powell in charge of the fed and announcing in march that money was free and what happened made it quite possible for us to think about debt instead of taking money out of the endowment. it was a matter of arbitrage. david: was it hard to convince your trustees to do that? darren: they thought it was out-of-the-box. no foundation had done that before. once the investment committee started to think about the options, it became clear it was the best option. david: for you able to get other large foundations to do the same? darren: there were a number of
foundations that would have done this. , kellogg, macarthur, doris duke, but the bigger message was that we needed to do more than simply going by the irs minimum 5% payout. at a time of covid when we had more money than ever, it was not morally defensible to spend 5%. david: let's talk about george floyd. you lived through the civil rights revolution in the 60's, and we have the post-civil rights efforts in the 70's and 80's. it was not until george floyd was murdered that some people took seriously the discrimination that africans americans faced. is it your perception that church floyd had an incredible -- george floyd had an incredible impact? darren: we were all at home as a
country. secondly, this was fully videotaped from the moment he was put on the ground to his last breath. it was photographed. it was videotaped. the perpetrator was fully aware that he was killing someone and clearly assumed he could do that with impunity. that is what the average american found so appalling and so antithetical to our values as a people. it had a huge impact, far beyond the issue of policing and civil rights to the board room. david: do you think it will be enduring? darren: in the boardroom -- david: do think it will be enduring?
is it just for a short period of time after the george floyd murder? darren: some of the rhetoric from some ceos was performative. i believe we are seeing a real paradigm shift where we understand that diversity in the boardroom is more than 1. i have been a member of some public company's boards and there were times when there would be 1 black and 1 hispanic and there would maybe be 1 or 2 white women and that would be diversity. diversity is fully embracing the intersection. david: do you think discrimination against african-americans is greater than discrimination against people who are gay? darren: i think race is a challenging feature of american life. when we look at the progress of
lgbt -- when you think about something like marriage equality, which polls in the low double digits as recently as 15 years ago and now a majority of americans support, i think the reason for the progress was most americans, most white americans could relate. they can relate to ellen to generous coming out on abc on national tv because she was the girl next-door who they had fallen in love with for 5 seasons. they could relate to people on the front lines leading the marches. they knew that these young people were their children and grandchildren. it is harder on the issue of race because in this country we have a difficult history. i love the united states of
america because i know that there is no country in the world where my story would be possible. i revere the founding fathers in spite of their flaws because they made it possible to actually fix the problem they did not have the courage or the will to. i believe we have to deal with that fundamental history, the contradictions and complexities of this country. ♪
became the head of the ford foundation and your background. you are not from new york city right? darren: no. i was born in louisiana in a little town not far from lafayette and baton rouge. david: you were raised by a single mother? and you grew up in texas more than louisiana? darren: yes. david: you went to the university of texas? darren: i did. i have never attended a day of public education -- private education in my life. david: you went to the university of texas. how did you do there? were you elected president of the student government? darren: i was very lucky. i lived at a time in this country where i knew in spite of the challenges i faced as a boy, as a young man, that my country
was cheering me on. i never for a moment felt that my dreams and aspirations could not be achieved, and i never felt that america did not want anything for me but success. i had a great time in college. that brought me to new york. the tailwinds were with me. david: you must have suffered some discrimination in texas or louisiana as an african-american. was it difficult or was it not? there were countless occasions -- darren: there were countless occasions when i face discrimination, when i face people saying things to me that were heartless and difficult to hear. a recall in high school when i won an election for student council and the friend of the
person who lost to me told me that no matter how successful i might be in the future going off to the university of texas, etc., that the most successful black man in america would always be below the least successful white man in america. i was told this when i was 16! imagine hearing that, but also who taught a 16-year-old that idea? think about that when you ask questions like this. sure i did. what i worry about is that kind of thinking is instantiated in subsegments of our society -- in some segments of our society, which is so harmful. david: he went to new york and he went to a very famous law firm. -- you went to a very
famous law firm. what did you want to be? darren: what i didn't want to be ever again was poor. when you grow up on the precipice of an economic collapse of your own family, it leaves an indelible mark. when you are a kid and you are waiting for your mother to pick you up at school after a debate tournament and she never turns up, and you call home and find out it was because her car was repossessed, that leaves a profound mark on your psyche. to be completely candid, i did not want to be poor. i did not choose a career path to wall street because i loved the law or when i left to go to ubs because i loved asset-backed
collateral. i lacked the idea of some semblance of financial security for my family. david: you went to ubs, but then you left to work at a nonprofit in harlem. why did you do that? darren: it was never about piling up money. it was ultimately about service. david: you did that for a number of years then you joined the rockefeller foundation and he arose up to be in charge of various international programs. then you were recruited to go to the ford foundation. darren: it is about three times the size of rockefeller. it was a lateral move but a bigger remit. david: you went into the interview and said " i'm going to change this completely, if i get the job. i'm going to make everything
dealing with social inequality are focus." i said -- darren: i said the foundation was too disparately organized. we had lost our focus. we needed a single northstar for our work. david: when you got the position, all of a sudden ford announced " we will focus on inequality." the tip -- what dids the typical recipients of your aid say -- what did the typical recipients of your aid say? darren: part of our mission as established by henry for the second -- henry ford ii was to strengthen democratic practice in the u.s. and abroad. i believe among the greatest threats to our democracy is
growing hopelessness. hopelessness occurs in society where there are high levels of inequality. the correlation of inequality and hopelessness is what is a threat to where mission. the goal was to get people to understand new matter what you are working on, it is having some impact on poor people because of the growing inequality in the world. david: you got the job but then you have to do the of changing what they have been doing for so many years. was that hard to do? darren: it was not without difficulty. it was not without some long-term employees leaving the foundation. it was not without some long-term grant organizations leaving the foundation. david: did you feel the insecurity? darren: the role of foundation
leader like me is one of great privilege. i say that with all humility because this is not about me as a person. this is about the job i hold. i am under no fantasy or misunderstanding of why i may be in demand. i am not in demand because darren walker is that interest ing of a person. i am in demand because i am president of the ford foundation. when i am no longer the president of the ford foundation, i will have more time to have dinner with you. david: jeff bezos is giving away money. his wife is giving away money. is that the new model? darren: no country in the world has the diversity of ways of giving than we do here in the united states.
david: wealthy people like john d. rockefeller or henry ford set up foundations where they would take their stock or assets then put it in a foundation and the foundation would be controlled by families, but then eventually the families would not be in control. in the ford foundation case, ford famously got off the board because he was not happy with the ford foundation. you reengage the ford family. was that -- you reengaged the ford family. was that hard to do? darren: he was unhappy because the work we did in the american south to support efforts to
deem illegal discriminatory practices. southern dealers felt the displeasure of southern consumers. henry ford ii was hearing that consumers didn't want to buy our cars. he decided to leave. we have been independent of the ford family and ford motor company for over 6 decades. i believed it was critically important for us to reengage the ford family. this is where the money came from! it was important to reengage with the city of detroit. that is why we played a pivotal role in that bankruptcy. re-engaging with the ford family was easy. martha firestone ford is one of the most amazing people i know. 2 years ago we elected henry
ford iii, the grandson of henry ford ii to our board. david: a lot of prominent people when they get to be 60, 70, 80, they would set up these foundations. now people are getting wealthy in their 30's and they do not set up traditional foundations. is that the new model, which is to say something like what is being done with, say, the jeff bezos fortune? he is giving away money. his former wife is giving away money in new ways. is that a new model? do think the rockefeller foundation will stay as the model? darren: i think the model of philanthropy over many decades will continue to exist. there are new models as you mentioned, 2 terrific ones.
what jeff bezos is doing. all of these are part of a landscape of philanthropic pluralism, which we should celebrate. no country in the world has a diversity of ways of giving as we do in the united states. i celebrate every time a new foundation is created in whatever form. david: you are an average person. you worked hard to get this money. why not use it to buy things for you and your family? darren: some of the best philanthropists in this country are small donors. they understand what it is like to work really hard, and for many of them they do not have a lot of disposable income, and yet they give to their church, their food pantry, their homeless shelter, and that is because in this country, there
is a civic imperative of the individual to do what he or she can to make a difference in improving our community. i celebrate those small and impactful donors, but i also worry that for many, wealthy people, the idea of giving often is not driven by a sense of just making a difference. it is making a difference with strings attached. it is making a difference, but doing it the way i want it done, rather than what the experts might say. it is that calibration that concerns me. david: you and i serve on the national gallery of art board. what is it about art that attracts you? darren: art is essential in a democracy.
art is so important. we know what art does to young people. we know that exposure to art brings about higher levels of empathy. it helps, people understand how other cultures, other people, live. it brings out the kind of humanity in all of us. there are times when i have observed leaders use language that is inhumane while talking about other human beings, while talking about the world, and i think to myself " this person has clearly never engaged in beautiful poetry. they have never listened to the words of a great playwright. they have never sat and reflected on a beautiful painting or picture."
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