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Businessweek Archives

The Other Houses That Dick (Re)Built



Dick Jenrette came by his passion for fine old houses as a boy during twilight walks with his mother around the leafy neighborhoods of his hometown, Raleigh, N.C. For his mother, the walks were a way to digest dinner. But for her son, they were a chance to eye the broad porches and white columns of the grand Southern houses. "They were beautiful," he says.

Today, Jenrette boasts a collection of six houses that he has lovingly restored and furnished with antiques. His redbrick neo-Georgian town house off Manhattan's Park Avenue is filled with hand-tooled furniture from the early 1800s, before the era of mass production. Among his favorites is the Roper Mansion, an 1830 Greek Revival showpiece on the Battery in Charleston, S.C. Prince Charles was his guest there in 1990. In all, the CEO and chairman of Equitable Cos. has refurbished 12 houses, selling off some.

SUGAR SHACK. Rehabbing mansions is an expensive hobby, of course. And Jenrette's family was merely comfortably middle class. Fortunately, Jenrette ended up in a profession ideally suited for people who sincerely want to be rich. For a time, while he was at the University of North Carolina, he dreamed of becoming a sportswriter. But the paltry living that offered caused him to abandon the notion after graduation and follow his father into insurance sales.

Jenrette's business career started with New England Mutual Life Insurance Co. in the early '50s. He chatted up friends on the Raleigh social circuit, and when they brought up changes in their lives, such as a new baby, he pounced on them with a sales pitch. "I was like a spider, waiting for them," he says. But after a while, too many prospects turned him down, telling him they would rather invest in the future by purchasing stocks.So young Jenrette headed north to Harvard business school and then Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. He started Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp. with two Harvard pals, William H. Donaldson (currently chief of the New York Stock Exchange) and Dan W. Lufkin (now running GKH Partners LP, a private investment partnership).

After selling DLJ to the Equitable in 1985, Jenrette bought a 200-acre former sugar plantation in Saint Croix called Cane Garden, dating from 1786. He figured he would retire from the securities firm and devote himself to overhauling the tumbledown neo-Palladian greathouse that sits on a hill overlooking the Caribbean. Fate decreed otherwise. But now, Cane Garden's long-delayed restoration is finally complete. The Equitable's may be, too. Nonetheless, there always are other piles of ancient masonry awaiting Jenrette's ministrations.Larry Light in New York

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