Campus & Community

James Rothenberg dies at 69

4 min read

Longtime member of the Harvard Corporation was University treasurer for a decade

James F. Rothenberg ’68, M.B.A. ’70, a member of the Harvard Corporation since 2004 and the University’s treasurer from 2004 to 2014, died unexpectedly Tuesday, apparently of a heart attack. He was 69.

A longtime resident of the Los Angeles area, Rothenberg was a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, chairman of the board of directors of Harvard Management Company, and a co-chair of The Harvard Campaign, among many other roles.

“Jim was one of the best friends Harvard has ever had, and his selfless leadership, gentle wisdom, humane spirit, and boundless generosity in service of Harvard will live on always,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “The entire Harvard community deeply mourns his passing and extends deepest condolences to [his wife] Anne and the Rothenberg family. We will miss Jim more than I can say.”

“In a community of extraordinary people, Jim was one of the most extraordinary,” said William F. Lee, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation. “He was a person of unmatched intellect, judgment, integrity, and empathy, and was deeply committed to Harvard and all it represents. He was and is without peer.”

Rothenberg devoted his professional career to the Capital Group, one of the world’s leading investment management firms, where he began in 1970 and rose to become chairman of the board. Among his roles, he was president of Capital Research and Management Co., which provides investment management services to Capital Group’s American Funds, one of the country’s largest mutual fund families, and president of the Investment Company of America, one of American Funds’ flagship funds.

Rothenberg served on the University’s presidential search committee in 2006-07 and on the committee whose work led to the historic governance reforms approved in 2010 and implemented since. He was a member of the Corporation committees on finance and governance from their inception in 2011. As treasurer, he helped Harvard navigate the 2008-09 global financial crisis and its aftermath, and as chair of the Harvard Management Company board, he oversaw the investment of the world’s largest university endowment.

A native of Pittsburgh, Rothenberg was active in the alumni affairs of both the College and the Business School, serving on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Council and the Business School’s Board of Dean’s Advisors. A major figure in Harvard’s fundraising efforts and himself a philanthropist of extraordinary generosity, Rothenberg long served on the Committee on University Resources and co-chaired several of his College reunions before assuming a leadership role in the current Harvard Campaign.

Having concentrated in English as an undergraduate, Rothenberg initially worried that his liberal arts studies would be a liability as he prepared for a business career. But he soon came to see his background as a distinct advantage.

Largely thanks to his undergraduate experience, Rothenberg told the Harvard Gazette in 2007, “I can study massive amounts of material, I can find the key issues, and I can summarize them and present them in a logical, straightforward way.”

Throughout his career, Rothenberg said he spent more time reading literature than studying stock prices or economic data. Doing so, he said, helped him hone skills in making good decisions with incomplete information, learn how to manage and motivate people, and apply imagination to investment strategies.

“The deeper one gets into studying literature, the more one sees there’s no single right answer to a problem the way there is in mathematics or the sciences,” he told the Gazette.  “The creativity one exercises in analyzing works of literature and drawing conclusions about them is very valuable in the investment world where one is constantly faced with the task of making investment decisions based on imperfect knowledge.”

Widely active in educational, civic, and community pursuits in the Los Angeles area, he chaired the boards of both the Huntington Hospital and public television station KCET, and was a trustee of the California Institute of Technology. Earlier this year, he joined the Board of Trustees of the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Rothenberg is survived by his wife, Anne F. Rothenberg; their three children, Catherine Rothenberg Wei, Erin Rothenberg Baker, and Daniel H. Rothenberg ’04; and six grandchildren.