Ronald Steven Lauder (born February 26, 1944) is an American businessman, art collector, philanthropist, and political activist.
Life and career
Lauder was born in New York City, the son of Estée Lauder and Joseph Lauder, founders of Estée Lauder Companies. He is the younger brother of Leonard Lauder, chairman of the board of the Estée Lauder Companies. The boys were raised Jewish.
He attended the Bronx High School of Science and holds a bachelor's degree in International Business from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He studied at the University of Paris, and received a Certificate in International Business from the University of Brussels.
He is married to Jo Carole (Knopf) Lauder. They have two children, Aerin and Jane.
Lauder started to work for the Estée Lauder Company in 1964. In 1984, he became a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO policy at The Pentagon.
In 1986, Ronald Reagan named him as the United States Ambassador to Austria, a position he held until 1987. As ambassador, he fired diplomatic officer Felix Bloch, who later became known in connection with the Robert Hanssen espionage case.
As a Republican, he made a bid to become the mayor of New York City in 1989, losing to Rudy Giuliani in the Republican primary. Michael Massing, writing of this nomination race, notes that politically Lauder 'seemed out of step with most American Jews; ... he ran to the right of Rudolph Giuliani. And, on Israeli issues, he was a vocal supporter of the Likud party, with long-standing ties to Benjamin Netanyahu."
In 1998, Lauder was asked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to begin Track II negotiations with Syrian leader Hafez al-Asad; these negotiations continued after the election of Ehud Barak to the post. Lauder communicated a new-found willingness on Asad's part to make compromises with the Israelis in an overall land for peace deal, and his draft "Treaty of Peace Between Israel and Syria" formed an important part of the (ultimately fruitless) Israeli-Syrian negotiations that occurred in January 2000 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Lauder manages investments in real estate and media, including Central European Media Enterprises and Israeli TV. In 2010, Lauder founded RWL Water, LLC.
His daughter Jane is married to Kevin Warsh, a former member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
Civic and philanthropic activities
On November 16, 2001, Lauder opened the Neue Galerie in New York, an art museum across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Neue Galerie is dedicated to art from Germany and Austria from the early 20th century. It holds one of the best collections of works by Egon Schiele in the world.
On June 18, 2006, he purchased from Maria Altmann and her family, the painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt for $135 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting at that time. Lauder called the painting "Our Mona Lisa." He reportedly saw Klimt's portrait as a youth in Vienna and had admired it since. The painting, a Nazi-looted art piece which had just been restored to Altmann following years of negotiation and litigation with the Austrian government, now forms the centerpiece of the museum's collection.
Lauder has been instrumental in a number of cases in recovering "lost" art from the Nazi period. He has been criticized for failure to resolve a case involving the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which in 1997 exhibited some paintings owned by Rudolph Leopold, a Viennese doctor and art collector. An investigative article in The New York Times on December 24, 1997 – "A Singular Passion for Amassing Art, One Way or Another" – outlined a case involving Portrait of Wally by Egon Schiele, which was in the MoMA exhibition but was obtained by Leopold soon after the Nazi era. The New York County District Attorney (Manhattan) stepped in to help restore the piece to descendants of its original owner, but ownership of the painting is still in contention, nearly ten years later. Lauder has been accused of a failure to act on the case, despite being MoMA chairman at the time.
Lauder is an honorary trustee of the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based non-profit with the mission of protecting endangered cultural heritage sites around the world.
Ronald S. Lauder Foundation
In 1987, Lauder established the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, a philanthropic organization that is dedicated to rebuild Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe. The foundation also supports student exchange programs between New York and various capitals in Central and Eastern Europe.
Lauder is actively involved in numerous civic organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish National Fund, the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Brandeis University, and the Abraham Fund. With his brother he founded the Lauder Institute at Wharton School. Lauder has also served as a finance chairman of the New York Republican State Committee.
In 2003, Lauder founded and became a president of Lauder Business School in Vienna, Austria.
President of the World Jewish Congress
Lauder was elected president of the World Jewish Congress on June 10, 2007, following the resignation of Edgar Bronfman, Sr.. He beat the South African businessman Mendel Kaplan and Einat Wilf of Israel by a clear margin. As head of the international Jewish umbrella organization, he has met with a number of heads of state and government, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Pope Benedict XVI, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, Czech President Václav Klaus, Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah of Jordan, Swiss President Pascal Couchepin, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
President George W. Bush appointed him to serve on the honorary delegation to accompany him to Jerusalem for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel in May 2008.
In July 2009, Bernie Ecclestone faced calls from Lauder to resign as Formula One chief after he had praised Adolf Hitler in a newspaper interview and said that Hitler "got things done". Lauder said someone with Ecclestone's views should not be allowed to run such an important and popular racing series. He urged Formula One teams, drivers and host countries to suspend their cooperation with him. In reaction, Ecclestone told the news agency Associated Press that "I think the people who are saying that haven't got the power to say these things." Asked if the World Jewish Congress was influential, Ecclestone said: "It's a pity they didn't sort the banks out" and "They have a lot of influence everywhere". After a public outcry, Ecclestone apologized for his remarks and said he had "been an idiot".
In December 2009, Lauder protested against the Roman Curia's decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Pope Pius XII, asserting that an eventual beatification would be inopportune until the Holy See's historical archives from the 1939–1945 period were opened.
In 2011, writing in the German newspaper Die Welt, Lauder called for Israel to be admitted into the Western defense alliance NATO: “Israel needs real guarantees for its security. European NATO member states – including Turkey – must admit the state of Israel into the Western alliance,” the WJC president wrote. He referred to the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and said they were reminders of how "unpredictable" developments in the Middle East were. Israeli NATO membership "would send a strong signal to other countries not to take on Israel", Lauder argued.
Lauder has also been outspoken on anti-Semitism. In an opinion article entitled "Sweden's Shame", he attacked the Swedish government, church officials and media for "fanning the flames" of hatred against Jews.
In May 2012, Lauder condemned as "despicable" remarks made by the Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung who had "revived anti-Semitic canards such as Jewish control of the media" and suggested that Israel's Mossad could have been behind the 2011 "massacres in Norway committed by Anders Breivik" in which 77 people died. Lauder declared: "There is a growing tendency to blame the Jews for all evil that happens under the sun. It is a scandal that a leading academics such as Galtung does not shy away from citing notorious forgeries such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to support his bigoted arguments."
In August 2012, Lauder criticized Austrian politicians for failing to publicly denounce the leader of the third-largest political party in the country, the FPÖ, Heinz-Christian Strache, who had posted an anti-Semitic cartoon on his Facebook page. "Clearly, and not for the first time, the FPÖ leader is trying to whip up anti-Semitic sentiment. His repeated denials are not credible because his words and actions speak for themselves," Ronald Lauder said in a statement, adding: "This scandal shows that anti-Jewish resentment is still widespread, and unscrupulous politicians are allowed to exploit it for electioneering purposes. That is mind-boggling, and it could have negative repercussions for Austrian Jews."
Lauder has been strongly critical of business deals by European energy firms with Iran and called for stronger UN sanctions because of Tehran's threat against Israel and its nuclear program. In April 2008, he criticized a visit by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey to Tehran where she met with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to help a Swiss company secure a multibillion-dollar contract to buy natural gas from Iran. Lauder told a press conference in Bern: "Maybe that money that Switzerland is paying to Iran will some day be used to either buy weapons to kill Israelis, or buy weapons to kill Americans, or buy missiles to be able to deliver nuclear weapons." Lauder also led diplomatic efforts to persuade European businesses to withdraw from Iran. In January 2010, he warmly welcomed the announcement by Siemens CEO Peter Löscher that his company would not seek new business in Iran.
Lauder has repeatedly come to the defense of Israel in public and is seen as an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In May 2012, he reacted "with dismay" at a suggestion by Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore to impose a European Union-wide import ban on products made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Gilmore said were "illegal" and made peace between Israel and the Palestinians "impossible". Lauder said: "Such boycott calls are cynical and hypocritical. Minister Gilmore is taking aim at the only liberal democracy in the Middle East while keeping quiet about those who really wreak havoc in the region: the Assads, Ahmadinejads and their allies Hezbollah and Hamas." He added that "the West Bank territories are legally disputed and not illegally occupied."
In remarks to the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians made on June 28, 2011, Lauder reportedly scolded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a number of missteps, including lacking a diplomatic plan heading into the September UN vote on Palestinian statehood and setting preconditions for negotiations as part of the peace process in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, according to Haaretz. However, in June 2012, on the third anniversary of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at Bar-Ilan University, Lauder published a full-page advertisement in The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers in which he called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table. "Accept the offer to talk, President Abbas. It takes two sides to make peace," Lauder wrote.
Lauder has participated in a number of large media deals in Israel, among which was his purchase of part of commercial television Channel 10.
In September 2011, Israeli media published accounts that Lauder had put heavy pressure on the executives of the channel to broadcast a personal apology to the businessman Sheldon Adelson with regards to a profile that the channel had broadcast in January 2011. The apology read, "After the broadcast of the piece, we checked the accusations. Our checks revealed that the accusations were – and are – completely false... We are very regretful that we did not check these accusations before broadcasting them." Lauder's forcing of the form of the apology led to the resignation of the channel's news chief Reudor Benziman, its news editor Ruti Yuval, and its presenter Guy Zohar (who continues in another post in Channel 10), who criticized Lauder for the pressure he exerted. Because of the attacks, detailed above, on Lauder (who had been until then the last major funder of the channel), he decided to reconsider his financial support. If the channel lost his funding, it would have difficulty continuing to operate to its current standard past October 2011.
On November 3, 2011, the The Second Authority for Television and Radio reached a decision on the issue in which it decided that the apology to Adelson broadcast by the channel was appropriate and that "no evidence has been presented that there was any intervention by the shareholders of Channel 10 on new content, or even on the text of the apology, which was agreed between the news company and the person injured by the broadcast".
Accusations by Austrian Jewish community leader
The Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien (Vienna Israelite Community) banned Lauder for allegedly interfering in its board elections. IKG President Oskar Deutsch alleged that Lauder had offered incentives to members of the IKG to support another candidate. A Lauder spokesman denied the allegations. In January 2013, it was reported that Deutsch and Lauder had resolved their dispute.
A 2007 profile of Lauder in The New Yorker magazine detailed his residences, including three properties in Manhattan – a townhouse on East 70th Street, a townhouse (designed by Philip Johnson) on East 52nd Street, as well as an apartment at 740 Park Avenue. The profile additionally listed homes in Florida, London, Paris, and Wainscott, Long Island.
- 2011: Andrew Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy
- "Jo Carole & Ronald Lauder: 2011 Medal Recipients". Andrew Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy. February 29, 2012. Retrieved January 3, 2016.