James Wolfensohn, an investment banker who helped straighten out the finances of major American cultural institutions and served as president of the World Bank, died Wednesday at the age of 86.
World Bank Group President David Malpas paid tribute, saying that Wolfensohn “sharpened its focus on poverty reduction and redoubled its efforts to combat corruption, give voice to the poor, and magnify the impact of development investments.”
“Jim transformed the World Bank Group, increasing decentralization, advancing the Bank technologically, and making the organization more open and transparent,” Malpas said.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva hailed Wolfensohn’s “lifelong commitment… to fight poverty with passion and professionalism.”
“He was a brilliant financier, a generous philanthropist and, above all, a great humanitarian who always put people first,” she said.
Wolfensohn also served as chairman of the Boards of Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The Institute for Advanced Study described him as “a global champion of human rights, economic justice, scholarship, and the arts.”
Wolfensohn was born in Sydney, Australia and was a veteran of the Royal Australian Air Force and a member of the 1956 Australian Olympic fencing team.
He worked as a lawyer at an Australian law firm and went on to earn an MBA from Harvard University in 1959.
Wolfensohn, who became a naturalized US citizen in 1980, died at his home in Manhattan.