Last week, when headlines announced devastating news such as sexual harassment and misconduct scandals, wildfires in California, ongoing problems in North Korea, train crashes in Germany and other events, a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal offered readers a moment for surprise: details of the Rolodex of one-percenter David Rockefeller.
Rockefeller, who was 101 when he died in March, a bank executive for more than 50 years, a grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller Sr., a philanthropist, was an exemplar networker as the more than 200,000 3-by-5-inch cards in his Rolodex revealed.
A Rolodex, for the unfamiliar, is an index card system listing addresses and phone numbers. The unique selling point of the Rolodex was the cards were attached to a spinning device affording the user quick(er) access to information, such as an address or phone number.
According to The Wall Street Journal reporter Joann S. Lublin, Rockefeller’s cards required a custom-built Rolodex machine, a 5-foot-high device kept in an office suite in, of course, Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Rockefeller made special notations on the cards to keep himself current about his meetings and encounters with those listed on the cards and was known to give the cards as gifts.
In 2015, Rockefeller gifted Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state in the politically volatile 1970s, a copy of the 35 cards Rockefeller kept detailing their history. The men met in 1955 and were said to have had hundreds of encounters, many of which are detailed on the cards. Kissinger, you see, is often described as among Rockefeller’s best friends.
Rockefeller’s gift prompted thoughts about gift giving and receiving, so often high in our collective consciousness this time of year.
For some, a desk set with an address book might have been among gifts received in teen or young adult years. A coming-of-age talisman for many, the gift of an address book signified recipients were old enough to have their own friends and not be relegated to keep company with the children of their parents’ friends or friends from school or church. Admittedly, not as elaborate as Rockefeller’s Rolodex, but similarly significant, the address book gave gravitas to one’s own growing network.
A relative of mine is known for her incomparable family Rolodex. Whenever a current phone number or address of an infrequently seen cousin is needed, that relative is the one with whom to get in touch.
And while cleaning out closets and drawers, I recently unearthed numerous school phone trees, church directories, prayer chains and social organization phone books offering an immediate window into a history of what now might be termed networks within my immediate family.
In this technology-advanced age, there is something to be said for the speed at which a phone number can be gained. Have you ever asked a friend to call you on your cellphone to get their number without the hassle of writing it down, then typing it in, then noting whose number it is, etc.? A sales professional I know keeps several hundred contacts in his cellphone — friends, relatives, customers, friends of friends of friends of friends whom he values as part of his network.
However you maintain your network, it is important, especially this time of year, to keep in touch with those in it. Take a page, or a 3-by-5-inch Rolodex card, from David Rockefeller’s play book and keep current on who you know and how. You never know who may be waiting to hear from you.
East Penn Press