Roderick O’Neil, Greenspan’s Failed-Firm Partner, Dies at 81

C. Roderick O’Neil, a former banking executive at Manufacturers Hanover whose bid to build a money-management firm with Alan Greenspan fizzled in the 1980s, has died. He was 81.

He died on July 28 at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut, according to his wife, Nancy. The cause was complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the nerve disorder known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He lived in Chappaqua, New York.

A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Chicago, O’Neil, known as Rory, rose to executive vice president in charge of the personal trust department at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., part of today’s JPMorgan Chase & Co. In 1977 he became a director of Travelers Corp. -- predecessor of today’s Travelers Cos. -- and led its finance committee.

In 1984, he co-founded and became chief executive of Greenspan O’Neil Inc. in New York. His partners in the new investment firm were Greenspan, the future Federal Reserve chairman who was then chairman of economic consultant Townsend-Greenspan & Co., and talent agent Marvin Josephson, who owned International Creative Management, now ICM Partners, until 1992.

A news release announcing the firm’s startup said it would manage pension and endowment fund assets for major institutions “based on strong economic and investment research and will make use of the most modern investment techniques to provide appropriate management of investment volatility.”

Brought Connections

Greenspan was well-known at the time for his three-year term as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Gerald Ford. “The combination of Alan Greenspan, a leading economist, and Rory O’Neil, a top money manager, provides a powerful new entry in a rapidly growing industry,” Josephson said in a statement at the time.

O’Neil brought with him a long list of contacts in the pension community, and no shortage of confidence. “Everything I’ve ever been associated with has been a success,” he said in 1986, according to Forbes magazine.

They were entering a highly competitive field. “Greenspan O’Neil becomes one of hundreds of new investment management firms established since 1980,” the American Banker newspaper said in an article on the new firm. “Virtually every large institutional investment firm in the country has suffered the loss of at least one portfolio manager who has gone off to start a new management firm.”

Missed Goal

The competition would prove too much even for the brand names behind Greenspan O’Neil.

O’Neil, wanting to have $2 billion under management within five years, sought business from the biggest pension funds, those with at least $500 million in assets, according to a 1987 article in Forbes. His pitch was that Greenspan’s prognostications on interest rates and other economic variables would produce hefty returns.

The firm won only one significant account -- a portion of Gulf & Western’s pension fund -- and peaked at $60 million under management, bringing in just enough “to pay rent on the firm’s lavish and expansive offices on Manhattan’s fashionable East Side,” Forbes said.

Josephson, who had pledged $3 million in cash over three years to the venture, pulled out in mid-1985 and canceled his final $1 million commitment, according to Forbes. Greenspan O’Neil closed on Jan. 31, 1987, after O’Neil couldn’t find a buyer for what remained of the firm, Forbes said.

Reagan’s Choice

Four months later Greenspan was named chairman of the Federal Reserve by President Ronald Reagan. In Greenspan’s partly autobiographical 2007 book, “Age of Turbulence,” neither Greenspan O’Neil nor O’Neil personally was mentioned.

In a statement through his assistant, Greenspan said today of O’Neil’s passing: “I am saddened. He was a valued associate.”

Charles Roderick O’Neil was born on Jan. 26, 1931, in Amityville, on New York’s Long Island. He was the son of Charles A. O’Neil and the former Elizabeth Whyte, according to Marquis Who’s Who.

He graduated from Princeton University in 1953, earned a master’s degree in business from the University of Chicago in 1957 and was an assistant vice president in the Chicago office of A.G. Becker & Co. before joining Manufacturers Hanover in 1964, according to a New York Times story that year.

He joined the board of Hartford, Connecticut-based Travelers in 1977.

Helping Hartford

Following his work with Greenspan and Josephson, he created O’Neil Associates, a consulting company. He was a former president of the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts.

In 1981, he became chairman of Riverfront Recapture Inc., a nonprofit organization formed to restore access to the Connecticut River in Hartford, which had become walled off by flood-control dikes and Interstate 91. In the three decades since, four riverfront parks have opened, connected by paved, lighted river walks, according to the group’s website.

He and his wife also supported the restoration of historic properties in Hartford, where the couple lived for a time.

With his wife, the former Nancy Galante, O’Neil had six children: Brian, Sarah, Tim, Kevin, John and Anne.

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